Contraceptives versus Cancer

In another case of why you shouldn’t trust everything you read in the papers, Mr Federico D. Pascual Jr. has written about his stance on the RH bill (anti), and also included an addendum provided by one of his readers about the perils of oral contraceptives:

ABORTIFACIENT: Reader Noel Manalo called our attention to the fact that all contraceptives are abortifacient (causing abortion). He explained in an email:

“The early contraceptives, such as Enovid back in 1957, did prevent ovulation, and therefore conception — majority of the time. But such “hormonal” contraceptives — so called because they used hormones such as estrogen and synthetic hormones like progestin — had a difficult problem.

“They caused internal bleeding and cancer of the uterus. This is the main reason why manufacturers and doctors turned to outright abortifacients (“pampalaglag”).

“The use of abortifacients looks ‘clean.’ The one they abort is the fertilized egg — a human being initially one cell in size, too tiny to see, but a human person nonetheless. Abortifacients murder a helpless, unborn person with the same human worth and dignity as all of us.

“There are still hormonal contraceptives being produced, but they retain the same problems of hormonal contraceptives — intra-uterine bleeding and cancer of the uterus.

“If you take hormonal contraceptives once or a few times, maybe you won’t bleed or get cancer. But for these things to work, you have to take them constantly, day after day, month after month, year after year — until menopause.

“Otherwise, if you miss a dose, you could get pregnant, and all your plans are ruined. This is how people become slaves to contraceptives and abortifacients.”

While I mostly disagree with Mr. Pascual in his views (He argues that good governance is what we need versus population control) I’m not going to take him to task today, and would rather focus on the misinformation that he, via his reader, is spreading through his newspaper.  On the issue of contraceptives causing cancer, I did a little bit of research on the google and found this very revealing FAQ from the US National Cancer institute which bases its studies not on hearsay but on factual data.  You are free to read the entire FAQ here, but for the purposes of brevity I’d like to highlight key points that overturn the argument that contraceptives cause cancer.  In terms of breast cancer:

  1. A 1996 analysis of worldwide epidemiologic data conducted by the Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer found that women who were current or recent users of birth control pills had a slightly elevated risk of developing breast cancer. The risk was highest for women who started using OCs as teenagers. However, 10 or more years after women stopped using OCs, their risk of developing breast cancer returned to the same level as if they had never used birth control pills…
  2. The findings of the Women’s Contraceptive and Reproductive Experiences (Women’s CARE) study were in contrast to those described above…The results, which were published in 2002, indicated that current or former use of OCs did not significantly increase the risk of breast cancer. The findings were similar for white and black women. Factors such as longer periods of use, higher doses of estrogen, initiation of OC use before age 20, and OC use by women with a family history of breast cancer were not associated with an increased risk of the disease,
  3. In a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-sponsored study published in 2003…The results indicated that the risk was highest for women who used OCs within 5 years prior to diagnosis, particularly in the younger group

So in terms of breast cancer, some research indicates a slight risk, especially for women who are younger and have just started using the pill.  Other research indicates that they do not increase the risk of breast cancer at all.  This is the type of argument that many anti-contraceptive people will use, that the research indicates there is “some” risk.  never mind that they inflate it to the black and white statement that they cause cancer unequivocally.  To put things into perspective, here are other things that elevate the risk of cancers of all sorts:

  • too much red meat and not enough vegetables
  • not enough physical activity
  • alcoholic drinks
  • body fatness (a BMI of between 21-23 is best)

Of course the fact that some research indicates that contraceptives may increase the the risk of cancer should give any woman pause.  But the nuance that is lost in reductive statements seen in the newspaper is that there are many things in the world that may increase the chances of cancer, and ultimately it’s up to you to pick and choose what you want.  For example, I could never say no to red meat, so I try to complement by eating more vegetables.

On the charges that contraceptives cause ovarian and endometrial cancer, we have the following notes:

  1. Studies have consistently shown that using OCs reduces the risk of ovarian cancer. In a 1992 analysis of 20 studies of OC use and ovarian cancer, researchers from Harvard Medical School found that the risk of ovarian cancer decreased with increasing duration of OC use. Results showed a 10 to 12 percent decrease in risk after 1 year of use, and approximately a 50 percent decrease after 5 years of use
  2. The use of OCs has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of endometrial cancer. This protective effect increases with the length of time OCs are used, and continues for many years after a woman stops using OCs

In terms of ovarian and endometrial cancer, the studies are more conclusive.  Not only does it not cause cancer, it actually reduces the risks of cancer.

In terms of cervical cancer, there is more information that should give you pause:

  1. Evidence shows that long-term use of OCs (5 or more years) may be associated with an increased risk of cancer of the cervix (the narrow, lower portion of the uterus) (12). Although OC use may increase the risk of cervical cancer, human papillomavirus (HPV) is recognized as the major cause of this disease.
  2. In another IARC report, data from eight studies were combined to assess the effect of OC use on cervical cancer risk in HPV-positive women. Researchers found a fourfold increase in risk among women who had used OCs for longer than 5 years. Risk was also increased among women who began using OCs before age 20 and women who had used OCs within the past 5 years (14). The IARC is planning a study to reanalyze all data related to OC use and cervical cancer risk (12).

Here the debate is wide open.  There is evidence that contraceptives may be associated with an increased risk of cancer of the cervix, but that HPV is the major cause of the disease.  They conclude saying that more research needs to be done to analyze all the data.

Lastly, an interesting tidbit for Filipinas and liver cancer, research shows that “OCs did not increase the risk of liver cancer in Asian and African women, who are considered high risk for this disease. Researchers believe this is because other risk factors, such as hepatitis infection, outweigh the effect of OCs”.

To summarize, let’s go over the risks for different kinds of cancer and introduce a simple rating system (1  being good and 5 being bad) to judge whether or not contraceptives are good or bad for you.

  • breast cancer – slight risk (4)
  • ovarian and endometrial – reduces risk (1)
  • cervical – possibly high risk (4)
  • liver – no risk (3)
  • average (3)

With an average of three, it would seem that overall contraceptives do not really pose a grave risk to human health, except with the case of cervical cancer.  More research needs to be done on this, but the very first precaution a woman must take is to get immunized for the HPV virus, since that is the primary cause of this type of cancer.  There are risks involved with taking contraceptives, just as there are risks involved with eating too much red meat.  The answer is not to eliminate them out of hand and claim that they cause cancer, but to introduce people to the exact risks they are taking and have them decide for themselves what the best solution is.

Why You Shouldn’t Believe Everything You Read in the Papers

A short post on why you shouldn’t believe everything you read in the papers.   In this Philippines Star column, Valerians Avila (aka the Freeman) argues that overpopulation is not an issue because:

Today, the best economies experiencing a phenomenal economic growth are China and India, whose populations are over 2 billion.

There is no follow up to this bold statement.  No facts.  Just an opinion masquerading as fact in one of the most well-read broadsheets in the nation.  He is after all  printed in the newspaper, so he must know what he’s talking about right? Wrong:

http://www.issuesinmedicalethics.org/143ss106.html

Both India and China are success stories DESPITE their acknowledged population problem, and for years (since 1979) China has been trying to curb it with their one child policy. The percentage of people in India living below $1.50 a day is 41.6%, the Philippines 22.6, and China (again after taking steps to reduce its population) is at 15.9. Even worse, 75% of Indians live below $2 a day!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_percentage_of_population_living_in_poverty

Is this the great “good” that he envisions for the Philippines? If so, then by all means, let the people propagate like rabbits!  There are more debatable facts in his column if your’e interested in reading it, but I thought I’d tackle just the one issue, lest I lose an entire day’s work screaming at the internet.

The mistakes of Carlos Celdran

My more public blog has now been totally given over to my artistic pursuits, so I’ve left this blog abandoned for a while, waiting for the right time to resurrect it.  It’s interesting to note that it is the RH bill I was talking about in my last post more than 3 years ago.  This is how long the debate has been going on, and is perhaps why Old Manila tour guide Carlos Celdran finally flipped his lid and staged a protest inside the Manila Cathedral (ironically the starting point for his tours).   I will not touch the debate over whether or not he was right in doing so, as I’m tired of butting heads with people, but for those who are curious I a) am appreciative of the press his publicity stunt has gotten for pro-RH bill supporters but b) frown on on his methods.  The only thing that really matters to me is ultimately “was it effective?”  Only time will tell.

What I would like to touch on is some of the statements released by him in this post (I hesitate to call in an article for fear of demeaning well written articles internet-wide) in the Inquirer where he drops some knowledge.  For the most part I have no issues with what he says (in fact I generally agree) but he says two things that really irk me.

The most ineffective way to help the Philippines is through politics.

The kind of damage a statement like this does is incalculable.  I am sympathetic to it of course, as is every Filipino that has been affected by corruption at one level or another.  But it is ridiculous to disregard politics as a means of helping the Philippines.  It’s a common enough mistake for individuals or small groups that have made an impact on society.  They say “look what a difference we’ve made, all on our own!” while flipping the government the figurative bird.  It neglects the fact that if we didn’t have a relatively stable government, we’d be having constant warfare and chaos, similar to countries like Afghanistan and certain African and Eastern European countries.  The government is what (barely) holds things together and gives people the opportunity to make something of their society.  Like Gilbert Teodoro said in his presidential campaign, the job of the government is to create stability, such that people can create businesses and wealth for themselves and ultimately the nation.  Ignore that government, allow it to degenerate, and things start falling apart faster than you can imagine.  We must encourage people to work with government and get into politics.  We must encourage our best and brightest to at least attempt to venture into that minefield to make a difference because otherwise all our efforts outside the sphere of government will be for naught.  Don’t kowtow to the government.  Don’t let them take the credit for what you’re doing.  But at the same time do not ignore out of hand any signs that there is change, and that there are people in government who want to do good.  You are not helping your cause by disengaging completely.

The world will never judge Manila by Mall of Asia or Greenbelt. Deal with it.

If we agree with him, then we might as well just give up, because the world will never change the way it thinks about us, the same way the world still thinks of China as a backwards nation where 90% of people ride bicycles.  It’s just ludicrous and infuriates me so much it’s hard to write a coherent paragraph about how wrong it is on so many levels.  In the first place, the world is always changing, and it changes by the efforts of people including Carlos.  It’s a tragedy that the man who wants to change the way you see Manila refuses to acknowledge the modernization that is going on all around us.  I am not for rampant modernization, and I love the heritage of Manila, but by telling people that we will never be judged by our modern accomplishments you’re cutting our future off at the knees.

One of the few bright rays of hope for the Philippines is that the future is yet unwritten.  That by our energies and efforts we can always shape the future, even as we learn form the past.  Mall of Asia, Greenbelt, the MRT and LRT and other signs of modernization sustain me, give me hope that we can still rise above ourselves.  It gives me hope that one day we won’t be known as one of the basketcases of Asia.

On a more personal level, it stings me because I’m the head of a group that wants to make the Philippines the new regional hub of game development in Southeast Asia.  Hyberbolic to be sure, but aren’t all aspirations?  I want the world to see us as more than Willie Revillame and the hostage tragedy, and I’ll be damned if I let someone say that I can’t affect that change even in the slightest.  Sir, I refuse to deal with it.

Mr. Celdran, if you have been disappointed by people (ie bishops who refuse to engage you), by institutions (ie the church and government), indeed by humanity, please know that you are not alone. We’re all disappointed.  We all have issues.  But those are your issues to deal with, not ours.


Science debunks myth, not the other way around.

It’s funny how most of the people against population control and family planning are middle and upper class christians who fight for moral values and against “the culture” of death.  The propaganda is frightening, in that if you believe in the use of contraceptives you might as well turn yourself in to the police because you’re a murderer.

While it is true that population control will not solve the country’s problems, it’s a necessary component in mitigating the effects of a crippled system.  What good is it to wail against a corrupt government and elite that manage to keep 90-plus percent of the country’s wealth to themselves while at the same time churning out babies like there was no tomorrow?  What point is there in producing another mouth that you cannot feed?

Perhaps they should ask how those most directly affected feel about the situation, the Janitor and the labandera who barely manage to make a living while their kids sell sampaguitas and cigarettes on the streets.  Take your high moral values and sacred right and feed it to them, and see what happens.

brotherhood

When young men die, it ought to be in defense of an ideal, a country, or at worst love or a car accident.  It should never be to gain access to a silly boys’ club.

This one’s for the dudes

Just a nugget of wisdom I’d like to share with my fellow man. If your significant other ever asks you the dreaded trick question “Baby, will you still love me if I get fat?” you’re kinda screwed. If you say yes she’ll hold you to that to the day you die, and if you say no you’re just a total douchebag, so say what I say:

“Sweetie, I’ll still love you if you get fat. But fair’s fair. So if you put on 200 pounds, I’m gonna be putting on weight right with you, so we’ll be two fat people in love.”

See the whole point is, you really don’t want her to get fat, but you can’t tell her that right? But if as a consequence of her getting fat she gets a boyfriend that’s equally fat, well you’d be surprised at how good an incentive that is to keep the weight off.

Hey Chris, you said you wanted an emo post so here you go

Every now and then I question the things I’m doing and the paths I’ve taken in life.  Is this where I really want to be?  Would I be happier doing something else? Am I wasting my time in a job that I’m ok with but don’t really love?

It’s funny that these feelings were dredged up by attending a comic book convention, where I saw the members of dig deep entertainment hawking their wares.  They do action figures and sculptures for a variety of clients, including those in the comics, game, and film industry.  I wanted desperately to go up to them and talk shop, maybe ask if they have openings, but I’ve neglected building up a portfolio for so long that I didn’t have anything to show them.   I didn’t want to feel like a fanboy, I wanted to feel like I was one of them.  I just felt small again.

I realize now that I’m still not satisfied where I am, but sometimes I wonder if I ever will be.  Maybe satisfaction is just a mindset, and not an actual place that you can get to, like the buddhists say.  I mean, not everyone has to be the guy that gets to do what he loves and makes moolah off of it.  Some people are just meant to be normal, regular folk.  No shame in that.  But media and popular culture have ingrained in us the idea that we’re special, that we’re meant to do great things and change the world, and I bought into it.

I want it to stop.  I get exhausted thinking of all the things I wanted to do and never did.  I’ve tried to make some of them happen but the list just keeps going on and on.  Does it ever end?  Can’t I just be happy in a regular job in a regular life having a regular family in the future?