Thursday, 15 July 2010

Vatican Causes Cancer?

The Vatican has been accused of giving children cancer. Highly amusing as it is to think of a radioactive Pope spreading Vaticancer, he's too busy with all the child abuse cover-ups and conning the UK taxpayer into spending up to £100 million on his visit to waste energy emitting Papal Death Rays. He is getting on a bit, after all.

Professor Andrea Micheli has written a 300 page report focussing on 19 deaths from leukemia or lymphoma between 1980 and 2003 in the Cesano area north of Rome. Vatican Radio has 60 masts nearby in Santa Maria di Galeria. Micheli's investigation was ordered by a Roman court five years ago after concerns were raised about an increased incidence of cancer in the area. It's not clear exactly who was concerned.

He claims that children under 14 living within a 7.5km radius of the masts have a raised cancer risk. As a result of his research, six Vatican Radio officials are under investigation for manslaughter.

The charges mean that this is not just yet another lame conspiracy theorist attempt to link masts or electromagnetic waves and cancer or the usual Daily Mail cancer scare.

Quackwatch has very thoroughly shown why there is no conclusive link.

Moreover, the Italian Navy also operates masts in the area but Micheli insists that it's the Vatican masts that are to blame. Perhaps there is some added toxic ingredient being emitted because of what they are broadcasting. As Quackwatch says:'what they emit is not understood by the public. Nor can they be felt, tasted, seen or touched. This makes them mysterious, easily portrayable as threatening'. Temptation to draw a parallel with certain aspects of religion will be resisted.

There are other problems with Micheli's findings. Firstly, the research was submitted to a court, not for peer review. The contents were leaked.

A research paper that is available without leakage in the American Journal of Epidemiology called Adult and Childhood Leukemia near a high-powered radio station in Rome, Italy finds that rates were higher than expected but that 'The study has limitations because of the small number of cases and the lack of exposure data.' It adds that 'no causal implication can be drawn'.

And the Lancet finds that: 'In the European population, about 1% of all malignant neoplasms arise in patients younger than 20 years. This low frequency represents a major difficulty for studies of putative risk factors'.

An article in The Hematology Journal called Expected number of childhood cancers in Italy from 2001 to 2015 states: 'The total number of children with incident cancer in Italy has never been specifically estimated. Specialized population-based Childhood Cancer Registries have only been operating in Piedmont (CCRP) and in the Marche region, while general population cancer registries cover about 20% of the Italian population'.

This means that there is insufficient data to tell if cancer rates have gone up above the expected rate compared with other mast-free parts of Italy. It's hard to gauge what's higher than expected when there is no accurate definition of 'expected'.

Leukemia and lymphoma are the commonest childhood cancers. Italy has nearly the highest rate of them in the whole world.

In Europe, the overall incidence increased by 1% a year from 1970-99 in children and by 1.5% in adolescents. The average incidence in Europe is 140 per million for children up to 14. That's 1.4 children per ten thousand. According to the American Journal of Epidemiology research, nearly 50,000 people live in a 10km area around the station.

[edited 22/3/11: In the Perugia region, about 150km north of Rome, for example, around 1.3 children in ten thousand get leukemia or lymphoma every year.

Nineteen children got leukemia or lymphoma in a twenty three year period in the Cesano area. In the Perugia region in the same period, you would expect just under 30 children to get them.]

While the data from these various sources are not directly comparable, it looks very much like nineteen deaths is not a suspicious figure.

This is probably the one and only time I will ever defend the Vatican.

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