Raise awareness of environmental health issues in order to better protect our children and future generations.

21 June 2014

The Globalization of Cancer

RE-POSTED 21 June 2014: The number of cancers being diagnosed in the world each year has leaped to more than 14 million, says the World Health Organization.  Developing countries are disproportionately affected by the increasing numbers of cancers. More than 60% of the world’s total cases occur in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America, and these regions account for about 70% of the world’s cancer deaths, a situation that is made worse by the lack of early detection and access to treatment.

This March 2012 post is based on an article by Dr. Annie Sasco about the globalization of cancer.  I wish to thank SOS pour un Monde Meilleur for having shared this information with me. 

“Dr. Sasco has been a cancer epidemiologist for 25 years and has worked for 22 years at the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer).  She is currently at the University Victor Segalen, Bordeaux, France, where she directs an INSERM (Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale) epidemiological team for the prevention of cancer.  Founding member of an equitable coffee trade group several years ago, she defines herself as a feminist and world citizen, a mix of ’68 and Harvard.    She has done an immense and remarkable work informing the population on the disaster and explosion of cancer that we cannot stop without mobilization of the public.   Our toxic, harmful carcinogenic products and out-dated medicines are being exported to less favored populations.   How can we still tolerate that these products, which have been declared “toxic” in our industrialized countries, continue to be distributed on the African continent and elsewhere notably by saying, “this is going to treat you, it is good for you …”  

Each of us can react and is partially responsible. 

“If nothing or too little is done in the fight against carcinogenic substances and in particular, the transfer of these products from North to South, we will see a true globalization of cancer. 

“Not only do traditional cancers in the South exist, but also the cancers of “civilization” are being added to the already existing burden of illness that in 50 years’ time will result in a relative uniformity of the rates of cancer in the North and in the South. 

“This is not the world that I wish for my children”, says Dr. Sasco.

In 2008, Dr. Sasco published an article entitled “Cancer and Globalization” in the Journal of Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, volume 62, issue 2, pages 110-121 (not available on-line.)

Abstract of the article

“Global human cancer is increasing. Exposures to cancer risk factors are not only becoming more prevalent in the less industrialized countries, but they have also become more complex all over the world. Human societies have always traded and   migrated, yet the growth of powerful economic institutions and globalization is accelerating, mixing many cancer risk factors. Critically, new cancer risk factors have also appeared, concurrent with globalization: modern diet, addictive products, pharmaceuticals, and toxic and waste products. Prevention, which still rests on recognition and elimination of exposure to carcinogens, is difficult, with seemingly opposed priorities such as income (corporate or individual) versus health. The solutions require not only individual behavioural change but also more importantly innovative action of all concerned at the global, collective level.”

Here are some examples, by no means exhaustive, of exporting cancer from Dr. Sasco’s article and research done by the Editor of this blog:


Filtering asbestos without protection
Materials containing asbestos are being exported from countries which have banned its use in construction for years.  These are being used in building homes without warning people of its dangers in handling.  Thousands of people in South Africa are suffering from asbestos-related diseases from mining the material.  (See my post "The Asbestos Trade Remains Alive and Well".)


E-waste is routinely exported by developed countries to developing ones, often in violation of international law. In the United States, it is estimated that 50 to 80%  of the waste collected for recycling is being exported in this way. This practice is legal because the U.S. has not ratified the Basel Convention which was adopted in 1989 to protect human health and the environment from the effects of toxic waste by reducing movements of hazardous waste between nations, specifically its transfer from developed to less developed countries.

“There are growing e-waste trade problems in China and India where 25,000 workers are employed at scrap yards in Delhi alone, and 10,000 to 20,000 tons of e-waste is handled each year, 25 percent of this being computers… Just one computer can contain hundreds of chemicals, including lead, mercury, cadmium, brominated flame retardants, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Many of these chemicals are known to cause cancer, respiratory illness, and reproductive problems… In many countries entire communities, including children, earn their livelihoods by scavenging metals, glass and plastic from old computers.  Each computer yields about US $6 worth of material (Basel Action Network). Burning the plastic sends dioxin and other toxic gases into the air. The large volume of worthless parts is dumped nearby, allowing the remaining heavy metals to contaminate the area." (Ref:  “Electronic Waste”, Toxipedia, 23 March 2011.)

Foods and other products

The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs wants to buy up canned fish, wheelchairs and other industrial products from the disaster-affected areas of Fukushima and offer them to developing nations.  The purpose is to aid developing countries, but also to erase the “baseless rumors” about radiation contamination of Japanese produce and products in the minds of people in developing nations.  (Ref:  “Japan to Give Radioactive Food / Goods to Developing Nations as Aid”, Department of Nuclear Engineering, University of California, Berkeley, 18 September 2011.)

Expired medications are being exported to developing countries.  There is a certain percentage of loss of effectiveness of the drug after the expiration date which may affect the health of patients.  Drugs may also be affected by packaging and storage conditions over a long period.


Toxic pesticides long banned in Europe are still manufactured and sold to developing nations – and even industrial nations such as the United States – for use on crops.  Produce is then shipped back to Europe.  These pesticides are being used by workers without protective measures. (See my post on Toxic Pesticides:  Syngenta's Paraquat and Atrazine.)


With stricter laws for the sale of cigarettes and campaigns to discourage smoking, tobacco companies are targeting populations in other countries to promote their products.

“Companies like Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco are spending billions on lobbying and marketing campaigns in Africa and Asia.  In Indonesia, for example, the fifth-largest cigarette market, which has little regulation, tobacco companies market their products in ways that are prohibited elsewhere. Cigarette ads run on TV and before movies; billboards dot the highways; companies appeal to children through concerts and sports events; and stores sell to children.  Indonesia gets some $2.5 billion a year from Philip Morris International alone.”  (Ref:  “Cigarette Giants in Global Fight on TighterRules,” by Duff Wilson, New York Times, 13 November 2010.)
Another issue is the composition of cigarettes.  Those sold in the Maghreb have tar yields far above the ones authorized for sale in Europe.

Dr. Sasco continues

“If nothing is being done to stop the exportation of the worst products of ‘‘civilization’’ to the countries who do not have the finances allowing them to refuse this toxic trade, in 20 years’ time these continents will experience the cancer burden we now have in the West and they cannot afford it. They have no means for the diagnosis or treatment of cancer. The death toll will be huge.

“It is difficult to change the world and one way which I propose, is a daunting task. We must change the rules of international trade. One organization is playing an immense role, although it is never mentioned in the health field, in the exchange between countries and therefore in health matters:  the World Trade Organization (WTO).  Scientists and doctors do not realize the magnitude of the potential negative impact of WTO on the health of world populations. WTO through trade agreements can facilitate the introduction of products, including the most noxious ones, in any country and in particular in the most deprived societies. Its motivation is limited to economic profit and it does not deal with populations, just with markets.

“Product regulations should be the same in all countries. If a product is a carcinogen, a reproductive toxicant or a more general toxin in Bordeaux, France, what reason do we have to believe it will be safe in Seoul or Harare? … Countries must have the right, and feel the obligation, to refuse the entry of agents they judge too risky on their territories without been accused of unfair barriers to trade.”
“Not only as epidemiologists and population health experts, but also as citizens, we have a duty, to seek knowledge and also to translate it into action. We must act to make the world a safer, more social and just a better world. We can do it!   In any event, with the cancer epidemic as a lesson, we have to start trying now. Only the concern and pressure from citizens on governments, multinationals and their agencies might permit humanity to resist the forces of exposure to marketing and its ensuing cancer epidemic. Reactions against globalization’s excesses are developing and forces emerge in societies to defend a new way of considering our world.
“Women are playing a crucial role in this regard. They are the driving force which will hopefully make saving our planet (and simultaneously the rest of our biosphere) a reality.”

Original post:  22 March 2012

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