…The first clue to understanding what was promoting my breast cancer came when my husband Peter, who was also a scientist, arrived back from working in China while I was being plugged in for a chemotherapy session.
He had brought with him cards and letters, as well as some amazing herbal
suppositories, sent by my friends and science colleagues in China .
The suppositories were sent to me as a cure for breast cancer. Despite
the awfulness of the situation, we both had a good belly laugh, and I remember saying that this was the treatment for breast cancer in China , then it was little wonder that Chinese women avoided getting the disease.
Those words echoed in my mind. Why didn’t Chinese women in
China get breast cancer? I had collaborated once with
Chinese colleagues on a study of links between soil chemistry and disease, and I remembered some of the statistics.
The disease was virtually non-existent throughout the whole country. Only one in 10,000 women in China will die from it, compared to that terrible figure of one in 12 in Britain and the even grimmer average of one in 10 across most Western countries. It is not just a matter of China being a
more rural country, with less urban pollution. In highly urbanized Hong Kong, the rate rises to 34 women in every 10,000 but still puts the West to shame.
The Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have similar rates. And
remember, both cities were attacked with nuclear weapons, so in addition to the usual pollution-related cancers, one would also expect to find some
radiation-related cases, too.
The conclusion we can draw from these statistics strikes you with some force. If a Western woman were to move to industrialized, irradiated Hiroshima , she would slash her risk of contracting breast cancer by half. Obviously this is absurd. It seemed obvious to me that some lifestyle factor not related to pollution, urbanization or the environment is seriously increasing the Western woman’s chance of contracting breast cancer.
I then discovered that whatever causes the huge differences in breast cancer
rates between oriental and Western countries, it isn’t genetic.
Scientific research showed that when Chinese or Japanese people move to the West, within one or two generations their rates of breast cancer approach those of their host community.
The same thing happens when oriental people adopt a completely Western
lifestyle in Hong Kong . In fact, the slang name for breast cancer in China
translates as ‘Rich Woman’s Disease’. This is because, in China, only the
better off can afford to eat what is termed ‘ Hong Kong food’.
The Chinese describe all Western food, including everything from ice cream and chocolate bars to spaghetti and feta cheese, as “Hong Kong
food”, because of its availability in the former British colony and its
scarcity, in the past, in mainland China .
So it made perfect sense to me that whatever was causing my breast
cancer and the shockingly high incidence in this country generally, it
was almost certainly something to do with our better-off, middle-class, Western lifestyle…