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Gates to the hell of cancer

The horrendous traffic in Metropolitan Manila doesn’t only result in huge economic costs, estimated by one study to amount to a horrifying P2.5 billion per day. It doesn’t only make the quality of life of ordinary Filipinos a purgatory on earth, as they wait for hours every working day to get into a jeepney or a bus and then for these vehicles to traverse the traffic.

The pollution from the traffic generated by a hundred thousand vehicles is hell on earth for any human being: cancer, particularly breast cancer, the incidence of which may actually be on a nearly pandemic level in the metropolis.

This could only be logical conclusion from the incidence of breast cancer rates in several areas in the metropolis as reported in a 2010 article “Cancer Incidence and Survival in Metro Manila and Rizal Province, Philippines,” by a group of researchers headed by Dr. Adriano V. Laudico. The researchers compared data of breast cancer incidence per city or municipality in the national capital region for 1998 (inset) and for 2002.

The picture is one in which the blight of cancer spreads out from the center of Manila to its adjacent areas from 1998 to 2002, as urbanization—and traffic—expand.



Areas which had the worst breast cancer incidence in 2002 (per 100,000 population) were Manila City (63 per 100,000 population), San Juan (70), Mandaluyong (57), Paranaque (70). Pasig (63) and Makati (52). This represented a worsening of the cancer incidence from 1998, when most of these areas had less than 32 cases per 100,000 population.

Municipalities at the fringes of the metropolis—such as Tanay, Pelilla, Montalban, Jala-Jala, and even Navotas at that time had significantly low rates of cancer.

These areas with high cancer incidence are those which already had heavy traffic in 2002, which has worsened probably tenfold now.

For 2011, the environment and natural resources department’s environmental management bureau reported that the following areas had the highest pollutants, with the reported microns of polluting particles per cubic meter (m/NCM) there higher than the 99 microns safe level: San Juan and Mandaluyong, 136; Makati, 131, Marikina, 123; and the Manila-Pasay boundary, 221.

The 2010 study however was not conclusive that traffic-caused pollution was the main factor or the incidence of breast cancer. It could have been due to “life-style changes” in these areas, as these were swamped with upper and middle-class migration to housing developments, for instance the posh subdivisions that expanded in Las Pinas and Muntinlupa (such as Ayala Alabang).

However, Evangeline Santiago, head of the Chemical Research and Analytical Services Laboratory of the University of the Philippines National Sciences Research Institute, explained in a recent article that particles produced by the combustion engines of motor vehicles spread into the air, contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) which have been identified in many scientific researches as carcinogens, particularly linked to breast cancer.

She wrote that World Health Organization’s studies “show that there is a probability of one in 10,000 that a person will have cancer if he is exposed to ambient air with 1 nanogram (ng)/m3 Benzo(a)pyrene during his lifetime.” Benzo(a)pyrene is one form of PAH. The UN’s International Agency for Research on Cancer listed Benzo(a)pyrene as a “Group 1 carcinogen” or highly carcinogenic to humans.

Santiago reported that her field research in 2001 in six sites in Metro Manila found that concentrations of the carcinogenic Benzo(a)pyrene were much higher (1.2-10.6 nanograms per cubic meter) than the cancer-causing threshold of 1 ng per cubic meter.

Pollution in Metro Manila is so visible: One can see it as a grey thick mist enveloping the metropolis when you’re driving at the highest point of the Skyway coming from the south, or even if you’re at the top floors of a condominium in Makati. One can see and feel it as black particles when you wipe your nose with a white handkerchief after a day in the metropolis.

As death is, cancer-causing pollution is even a “great equalizer” as not even the rich in their air-conditioned homes in posh villages, condominium units, and SUVs are shielded since the carcinogens of microscopic size aren’t blocked by air-conditioners’ filters.

Studies abroad have found that the microscopic pollutants even affect the chemistry of brains, that children growing up sniffing these have low IQs — a claim credible given the utter stupidity of our electorate in the metropolis that they even voted a convicted plunderer for mayor of Manila.

No wonder that most of us who’ve lived in the metropolis have a loved one, a relative, a friend, or work colleague who died of or is dying of cancer.

Indeed, breast cancer, going by the statistics of the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology has overtaken lung cancer as the most prevalent form of cancer in the country in the country.

Dr. Felycette Gay Lapus, the society’s president, also said that the Philippines had the lowest survival rate of people with breast cancer among 15 Asian countries. “So, we are number one for breast cancer in Asia. Three out of 100 (Filipino) women will get breast cancer before age 75 and one out of 100 will die before reaching 75,” Lapus said.

It is so ironic. The heavenly prosperity that Metropolitan Manila has been enjoying has made it the gates to the hell of cancer.