Living in fear of the cancer; that stalks our; streets.
Dr Damien Beirne carried out extensive research after pinpointing the disease as the main killer in his practice.
Now the veteran GP, who has worked in the city's Falls Road area for 38 years, wants a full investigation carried out.
His practice has seen 120 deaths from cancer in the past seven years - 37 per cent of all deaths in the practice - and another 140 people on the practice list are suffering from 37 different types of cancer.
In the last 20 weeks, 22 people have been diagnosed with the killer disease.
He said: "This issue must be opened for debate. We have constantly been told by health experts that coronary disease is Northern Ireland's biggest killer.
"But my figures disprove that theory. Cancer rates are increasing here and there is no age discrimination.
"I am now also seeing types of cancer which I have only read about in books. These are unusual cancers which family doctors might never expect to see during their careers.
"People tend to believe cancer is a disease which affects older people but that is not the case anymore. We are seeing younger victims all the time.
"My report suggests why there has been an increase in cancer. Now it is up to the community to demand that a proper investigation takes place.
"It is important to remember that what we are seeing in this practice cannot be exclusive to us. It must be the same across all practices in the area."
Practice manager Patricia Davidson, who conducted the research, said she was convinced that there was a link between the equipment and cancer.
"GPs have been required to collate information about their practice since the new health centre contracts emerged in 1990. When we started gathering information we noticed the unusual pattern in cancer deaths," she said.
"We had some reservations about going public with this information because we didn't want to alarm people.
"We are not saying the Ministry of Defence or telecommunication companies are directly responsible for cancer deaths. But it is more than just coincidental that this pattern has emerged."
Patricia said the sudden deaths from cancer of three members of the secret RUC surveillance unit E4A in 1997 also backed up their claims.
She said: "Three policemen in their early 30s died from colonic cancer which was thought to be linked to the radio or microwave transmitters which they wore at the small of their backs.
"But how many more have died? There is already an abnormally high rate of colonic cancer in the North Down and Ards area.
"We believe that it is too easy to blame smoking and an unhealthy diet for this rise. Something else is wrong and we want the situation investigated if only to reassure us and to prove us wrong.
"Believe me, we really do want to be wrong in our assertions. But just stand at the top of the Whiterock Road and look across toward the Dermott Hill, New Barnsely and Moyard Estates.
"You will see a sprawling community of houses with power lines sweeping through them."
She said that three large military bases also had communications antennae and electronic devices pointed at these estates 24 hours a day, and added: "This area is by far the worst in terms of the incidence of cancer.
"Peace in our community could mean the dismantling of these army masts. But we would be concerned that this equipment could be replaced by mobile phone masts.
"It is up to someone else now to campaign for a full investigation. We will continue to count the cost in human terms. We really hope that our report will change things."
Local residents are appalled at the thought that surveillance equipment could trigger cancer.
Community activist Deirdre Lenaghan has devoted her time to drawing as much attention as possible to Dr Beirne's startling findings.
"We are taking this report very seriously. We are challenging telecommunication companies like Orange, Cellnet and the Ministry of Defence to give us written assurances that the pylons they are erecting are not the cause of this problem.
"We have contacted other doctors in Belfast. A number have pledged to try to find out statistics for the rate of cancer in their practices. We also plan to approach the Department of Public Health in the Eastern Health Board to see if their figures support ours.
"Obviously the report's findings do not prove the link between the high rates of cancer and high exposure to radiation, but there is enough worrying evidence for the Department of Health to launch an investigation.
Deirdre has already sent a letter to the Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam, asking for a meeting to discuss the issue.
She added: "We don't want an increase in exposure so we plan to fight any plans by telephone companies to erect masts. And we want to see the government take action on our behalf.
"There is a real need for a full independent study of the entire West Belfast area. It is not normal or acceptable that our community is suffering this amount of ill health. Something must be done about it."
Families of the dead RUC officers are taking legal action in a bid to discover if a link exists, and a spokesman for the Police Federation has confirmed that the organisation is supporting their action.
The Ministry of Defence has denied there is any link between the surveillance equipment used in security bases and cancer.
A spokesman said: "Army equipment used in bases in Northern Ireland does not emit radiation of any type which poses any health risk to either people or animals.
"All the equipment deployed complies with all the current national and EU regulations."
Local health chiefs have also pledged to investigate Dr Beirne's claims.
A spokesman for the Eastern Health Board said: "The cancer rate in North and West Belfast is significantly higher than in other areas.
"When we get a copy of the report we will give it full and careful consideration to try to establish whether there is a pattern."
A spokesman for the National Radiological Protection Board, which monitors mobile phone emissions, said: "We support ongoing research in this area because the technology is rapidly changing. But all the evidence we have seen so far shows no serious health risks associated with mobile phone emissions."
years I feel
SOUTH Armagh GP Mary Allen is delighted another doctor has spoken out. She was shunned by some of her medical colleagues four years ago for questioning the health risks associated with mobile phone masts and high-tech security equipment.
In 1994, she secured the support of Coghill Research Laboratories in Wales to commission a report. It identified an increase in certain cancers and brain haemorrhages in Crossmaglen.
Dr Allen has a comprehensive dossier on a number of cases which she claims are linked to radiation emitting equipment used by the Ministry of Defence.
The report recommended that an investigation also take place in West Belfast - but it was rubbished by defence and health chiefs in Northern Ireland.
Dr Allen said: "We have been disheartened to date by the lack of response from the government and the medical profession. I have been particularly disappointed that none of my colleagues in South Armagh were prepared to support me.
"So it's significant that, for the first time in Northern Ireland, another GP is prepared to speak out.
"Our suspicions were first aroused by the number of cases which developed close to army posts and under constant surveillance.
"There have been a total of 30 cases of brain haemorrhages in this area in the past 10 years. That is an incredible statistic and it's hard to believe that some members of the medical profession can describe that sort of statistic as a natural cluster.
"There has been similar clusters of brain tumours and leukaemia in the Crossmaglen area. One cluster may be acceptable but three is certainly not.
"I wasn't surprised by the response our report received. The same has happened to those who exposed the dangers of asbestos and smoking."
Biologist and report author Roger Coghill, has been researching magnetic and electromagnetic fields at his laboratory in Newport, South Wales. He believes that continued exposure to pulsed microwave radiation is bad for the health and is campaigning for health warnings on mobile phones.
He said: "I am not at all surprised that my report was rubbished. But I stand by everything in it."
mum fears for tumour son
MARY, not her real name, was devastated when her 11 year old son Mark was diagnosed with cancer last year. The news came just months after the death of her father from cancer.
The West Belfast woman said: "Everyone in this area has either lost a loved one to cancer recently or knows someone who has died from it.
"It is absolutely terrifying. I was still trying to come to terms with my father's death when I got the news about Mark.
"Mark had never been sick in his life - he had never even had a headache or a runny nose. He was the healthiest child I knew.
"So I became worried when his handwriting started deteriorating. He was due to take his 11-plus exam and I was annoyed that he wasn't paying enough attention.
"He never complained about having a pain in his right hand.
"When we came back from holidays in America last summer we took Mark to the doctor because there were times when he could not even lift a cup without his hand shaking.
"He was referred to the hospital straight away and had a scan which showed up the brain tumour.
"We were absolutely devastated. My husband Patrick and I were so afraid that we would lose him.
"He was in surgery for seven hours and our oldest child, Annette, sat in the recovery room the whole time waiting for him to come out.
THE surgeon said the tumour had been removed. But he could not tell us that it would definitely not return. Mark could not feed or dress himself after surgery.
"He eventually got better but he is still in a wheelchair, although he absolutely hates using it.
"I was really frightened when I heard about Dr Beirne's report but I am not surprised. We all think there is something terribly wrong here.
"There are so many army bases and now mobile phone companies want to erect masts too.
"I don't know whether the radiation coming from this equipment is linked to my son's cancer but there should be a proper investigation to either prove or disprove the link.
"The soldiers in these military barracks are only stationed there for short tours of duty but we are living with the potentially fatal health threat from this equipment 24 hours a day.""
ANNE McCallum only discovered how high the cancer rate was among her neighbours when she became ill.
The 46-year-old from Dermott Hill Road in West Belfast had a partial masectomy five years ago after a tumor was detected in her left breast.
Then her mother died from a cancerous brain tumour two years later.
She said: "It is only when I became sick that I realised how many people from my street had either died from cancer or had the illness.
"I was amazed and quite frightened when I realised how many people had cancer. People just don't talk about the disease, it's a taboo subject.
"I was devastated when I discovered I had cancer. I thought I was going to die. The doctors can't say for certain that the cancer won't come back.
"So any time I take sick I am worried that it's the cancer coming back.
"There are at least seven or eight people living on my street, including myself, who have had cancer. Some people, including my mother, have died.
"I think this is too much of a coincidence. The rate of cancer is too high for such a small area.
"I believe there is a link between the illness and the large amount of surveillance equipment in the area.
"I am delighted Dr Beirne has spoken out about this, but I am scared that my three children may also be affected by this radiation in the future."
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|Publication:||Sunday Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Jul 12, 1998|
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