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Flouride and Bone Cancer

MagazineApril 2009 (Vol. 20 Issue 1)Flouride and Bone Cancer

The latest shocking evidence-which waited five years before a scientific journal would publish it-shows that boys under 20 who drink fluoridated water increase their risk of developing osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, by five times

The latest shocking evidence-which waited five years before a scientific journal would publish it-shows that boys under 20 who drink fluoridated water increase their risk of developing osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, by five times. Millions of boys across America are at a vastly increased risk of developing bone cancer from fluoride, according to alarming new research. The recently published study (Cancer Causes Control, 2006; 17: 421-8) found that boys who drink water containing levels of fluoride considered safe by federal guidelines are five times more likely to develop osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, than boys who drink unfluoridated water.
Osteosarcoma is the most common type of bone cancer, and the sixth most common type of cancer in children. Osteosarcoma usually develops from osteoblasts-the cells that make growing bone-and, therefore, most commonly affects teens, especially boys who are exper-iencing a growth spurt. The rate of death within the first five years of developing the cancer is about 50 per cent, and nearly all survivors have limbs amputated, usually the legs.
Research shows that teens who are taller than average or who have received radiation treatment have an increased risk for osteosarcoma. Now, according to new evidence from Harvard University, exposure to fluoride during the mid-childhood growth spurt (ages six to eight) is another important risk factor. Most worrying is the fact that a link between fluoride and bone cancer was seen at fluoride levels commonly found in both American and British communities.
Dr Elise Bassin, who led the study, found that drinking-water systems with fluoride levels that were 30 to 99 per cent of that recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)-0.7-1.2 ppm-raised the bone-cancer risk for boys exposed at ages five to 10, with a fivefold higher risk in those exposed at age seven. When boys drank water containing at least 100 per cent of the recommended fluoride level, their risk jumped to more than seven times that of unexposed boys.
Currently, about 10 per cent of the population in the UK-six million people, mainly in the Midlands and North East-receive fluoridated water. In the US, around 170 million Ameri-cans live in areas with fluoridated water. The implications of these latest findings are massive.
The study appears to back up what most of us already know: that fluoride is bad for you. In fact, the evidence comes on the heels of a US National Research Council (NRC) report that found that the official 'safe' limits for fluoride in tap water increases the risk of dental fluorosis, a mottling and discoloration of tooth enamel that, in its more severe form, can also cause cavities.
People who drink fluoridated water at or above the amount considered safe by the US Environmental Protec-tion Agency (EPA)-4 mg/L-also have an increased risk of bone fracture, according to the report. The NRC recommends that the allowable limit for fluoride in tap water be lowered immediately (Report in Brief. Fluoride in Drinking Water. The National Academy of Sciences, March 2006).
Significantly, the NRC acknowledg-ed severe dental fluorosis for the first time as an "adverse health effect", contradicting the position of the EPA, which has always regarded the condition to be only of "cosmetic" concern.
The turn-around was a wake-up call for the American Dental Association (ADA), which has been the nation's leading fluoride advocate for over 50 years. In a recent position paper, the ADA issued an alert warning parents against preparing baby foods with fluoridated water as it may be bad for the development of babies' teeth. Fluoride can cause fluorosis, the ADA announced. Nevertheless, the ADA still main-tains that adding fluoride to the water supply is a safe and effective way to prevent tooth decay. It even supports the US Food and Drug Administration's recent decision to allow bottled-water manufacturers to claim that fluoridated water may reduce the risk of dental cavities or tooth decay.
"Whether you drink fluoridated water from the tap or buy it in a bottle, you're doing the right thing for your oral health," says ADA executive director James B. Bramson, DDS. "Thanks to the FDA's decision, bott-lers can now claim what dentists have long known-that optimally fluori-dated water helps prevent tooth decay."
In response to the NRC report, the ADA points out that the EPA's maximum contaminant limit (MCL) for fluoride of 4 ppm (parts per million) is nearly four times higher than the amount recommended by the US Public Health Service (PHS), the CDC, and the ADA for preventing tooth decay "Nothing in this report calls into question the optimal levels of 0.7-1.2 parts per million in com-munity water systems," states the ADA. However, the new research linking fluoride with bone cancer shows that even those lower levels-used in both he US and Britain-are putting millions of people at risk.
What does the ADA say? Not surprisingly, the organization contin-ues to maintain that adding fluoride to community water systems is a "safe, effective public health measure for preventing tooth decay".
In a news release to reaffirm their position in April 2006, the ADA stated that the data in Bassin's paper "is simply one piece of a much more comprehensive 15-year study by the Harvard School of Dental Medicine scheduled for publication later this summer. The principal investigator of the larger Harvard study has advised against drawing conclusions before seeing the full study, which will not suggest an overall association between fluoride and osteosarcoma, he states. Further, an 'association' found in one, limited study falls far below any scientific standard needed to establish a cause-and-effect relationship."
However, since this statement was made, an investigation has been launched into the conduct of the 'principal investigator' Dr Chester Douglass, whose conclusions have been called into question by the well-respected non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG). Douglass was Bassin's research advisor at Harvard and, at the same time, part of a large government-funded study investigat-ing fluoridated drinking water and bone cancer. As the ADA claims, Douglass' research suggests no link between fluoride and bone cancer.
Yet, when reporting his results to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), Douglass cited Bassin's study, completed in 2001 as her doctoral thesis, to support this conclusion.
In response, the EWG charged Douglass, in a letter addressed to Ms Janice Strother, the NIEHS Ethics Coordinator, with allegedly "misrepresenting" his student's findings, since Bassin's findings clearly contradicted his. "What makes this inconsistency more curious,"
says the EWG, "is that Dr Douglass personally signed off on Dr Bassin's research."
As the EWG points out, Douglass has been on the payroll of Colgate, the toothpaste giant, as editor of its professional newsletter, Oral Care Report, for over a decade.
Also, although Bassin completed her work in 2001, it took a full five years for it to be published, raising speculation regarding suppression of evidence within the establishment.
In the end, Douglass has been cleared of all of the EWG's charges by a special Harvard panel, which conducted its own investigation. Nevertheless, the panel has kept its findings strictly confidential. Ultimately, whatever Douglass' position, the real issue is the findings themselves. Although the ADA is quick to dismiss them, Bassin's work, according to the EWG, "is the most rigorous study of the link between bone cancer and fluoride in tap water ever conducted in the United States."
Her findings were based on the data that Douglass had compiled from US hospitals in the early 1990s. However, she refined the analyses by limiting cases to exposed individuals under age 20 for a more detailed assessment of fluoride exposure and age-specific effects. While several epi-demiology studies failed to find a link between fluoride and osteosarcoma in boys, "these studies typically did not look for a relationship between age of exposure to fluoride and the incidence of bone cancer in young males," says the EWG.
In fact, Bassin's conclusions are supported by epidemiological studies by the US PHS (Hoover RN et al. Time trends for bone and joint cancers and osteosarcomas in the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program, National Cancer Institute, in Review of Fluoride: Benefits and Risks Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Fluoride of the Committee to Coordinate Environmental Health and Related Programs. US PHS, 1991: F1-F7) and the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDH), which also found increased rates of bone cancer in boys who drank fluoridated tap water (Cohn PD. A Brief Report on the Association of Drinking Water Fluoridation and the Incidence of Osteosarcoma Among Young Males. NJDH Environ Health Service, 1992: 1-17).
The link between fluoride and osteosarcoma during periods of rapid growth is highly plausible. Fluoride is known to stimulate osteoblasts-where the cancer occurs-during periods of rapid skeletal growth (Clin Orthop Relat Res, 1991; 267: 264-77). Fluoride is also a confirmed mutagen -so it could cause genetic damage in bone cells where it is actively deposited (Fluoride, 2000; 33: 154-8).
Based on this powerful evidence, the EWG urges that fluoride in tap water be declared a known-or, at least, a probable-cause of cancer.
Joanna Evans


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