discusses role of toxins in cancer, infant development
students urged to promote breast feeding
By Richard Heck
April 16, 2009
environment seems to play an equal or greater role than genetics in
the development of cancer, a noted ecologist and cancer survivor
told students this week at the Ohio University College of
Osteopathic Medicine (OU-COM).
Steingraber, Ph.D., author of Living downstream: An ecologist
looks at cancer and the environment, spoke to OU-COM’s first-
and second-year classes and several faculty members during her April
13 campus visit. Steingraber also delivered the final Kennedy
Lecture Series presentation of the academic year and attended the
OHIO Women Making a Difference conference.
distinguished visiting scholar at Ithaca College in New York,
almost became a doctor
herself. She changed her focus from medical school to biomedical
research at age 20, after she was diagnosed with bladder cancer.
That was when
Steingraber first suspected the impact of environment on cancer.
Although similar cancers affected her family, Steingraber was
adopted, and many neighbors in her Illinois hometown also suffered
from the disease.
“I have a
problem with medical intake forms because they only ask about family
history,” without asking about lifestyle and environment, which are
“too are relevant to ignore,” Steingraber said.
At OU-COM, she
focused mainly on dioxin contamination of breast milk, a topic on
which she has advised the United Nations. She also deals with the
issue in her most recent book, Having faith: An ecologist’s
journey to motherhood.
called on the medical students to encourage their patients to
breastfeed their infants. Breastfeeding not only protects an
infant’s immune system from environmental toxins, but it has also
been shown to reduce the mother’s risk for breast cancer.
“My goal is to
change public health policy,” Steingraber said, noting that current
regulations and laws, such as the nation’s Clean Air Act, permit
“acceptable levels” of toxins into the environment. “We allow some
toxic chemicals to be released into the environment, but at ‘safe’
amounts, which I reject.”
Kennedy Lecture presentation Monday night, Steingraber compared the
economy with the current state of ecology. Jacqueline Wolf, Ph.D.,
associate professor of social medicine at OU-COM, called it “a talk
that every American should hear.”
things would be like if we got news reports on the ecology with the
same frequency that we do on the economy,” Wolf said.