Cancer & Environment: Searching for Answers

This week, the Environment Report is taking an in-depth look at the connections between cancer and the environment.

When somebody gets cancer, one of the first questions is usually "why?"

Does this kind of cancer run in my family?

Was it something in the water, or in the air around me?

Did I get exposed to something?

What would you do, or where would you go to answer these questions?

We'll explore how much we really know about the connections between cancer and the chemicals in our environment.

We'll also meet both regular people and scientists trying to figure out if certain towns around Michigan are struggling with more cancer cases than other places because of current or past pollution.

You'll hear about whether or not turning to the courts makes sense when it seems a company might to be blame for putting people at risk of cancer or other illnesses.

Finally, we'll look at where we go from here. What do researchers know, and where are they looking next?

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Cancer & Environment
8:55 am
Tue March 6, 2012

Mapping cancer cases in a small town (Part 2)

Claire Schlaff and her daughter-in-law Polly were motivated by the loss of their son and husband, Doug, to start a cancer mapping project. They're trying to piece together information about cancer cases in White Lake, a resort community in West Michigan.
Photo by Sarah Alvarez/Michigan Radio

All this week we're bringing you a special series on cancer and the environment.

Cancer is a scary enough word, and cancer cluster can sound even scarier. That term describes a place where more people have cancer than you’d expect to find in the rest of the population. But finding out if a cluster really exists and then getting something done about it is hard, really hard.

Claire Schlaff doesn’t know if there’s a cancer cluster in her small resort community around White Lake, Michigan on the western side of the state. She says she just wanted to know more about what might have caused her son, Doug to get cancer and die three years ago.

“He went to two major medical facilities and was even in a clinical trial. They were focused on treatment. They weren’t about doing research into what causes Ewing’s Sarcoma.”

Claire’s daughter-in-law Polly was also looking for answers to what had caused the disease. She’s Doug’s widow and the mother of his three boys.

“He was diagnosed when he was 33 and he passed away when he was 35. We were high school sweethearts. He was a high school counselor; he was a high school basketball coach. He was an athlete.”

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Cancer and Environment
12:00 pm
Mon March 5, 2012

Your Story: A devoted husband and his wife's 30-year battle with cancer

Steve Humphrey with his wife Ruthann

As part of the Environment Report's week-long series, Cancer and Environment: Searching for Answers, we'll be highlighting some powerful stories of hope and loss in the words of those touched by cancer in Michigan. You can read more Michigan cancer stories here. How has cancer affected your life? Tell us your story.

My wife battled serious recurrent spinal meningiomas for over 30 years (she died in 2008). She lived with intense unrelenting pain that worsened as she became progressively more handicapped.

Her disease took an enormous toll on me emotionally. I felt helpless against this devastating incurable disease and hated seeing her suffer so badly. I knew the disease would kill her, but I couldn’t stop this slow-motion disaster.

This is the last, best photo I have of us together. We’re at our youngest son’s July 2007 wedding in eastern Germany.  Remarkably we both were able to smile. 

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Cancer & Environment
9:00 am
Mon March 5, 2012

Our murky understanding of cancer and chemicals (Part 1)

Corinna Borden was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma six years ago. She wrote a book about her experience - "I Dreamt of Sausage."
courtesy of Corinna Borden

According to the latest numbers from the National Cancer Institute, roughly 41 percent of us will be diagnosed with some type of cancer in our lifetimes.

But “cancer” is not just one type of disease.

There are more than 100 different kinds with different personalities and causes. And the causes are not all that well understood.

This week, we’re taking a closer look at cancer and environmental pollutants.

It’s a subject researchers are trying to learn more about, but the picture of how the chemicals in our everyday lives interact with our bodies’ cells is far from clear.

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