Cancer: It’s a Growth Industry David Ross interviews Dr. Samuel Epstein

October 2003, Z magazine
Dr. Samuel Epstein is an emeritus professor of environmental medicine and the chair of the Cancer Prevention Coalition at the University of Illinois School of Public Health. He has authored or co-authored ten publications, including the award-winning The Politics of Cancer, The Safe Shopper’s Bible, The Breast Cancer Prevention Program, and The Politics of Cancer, Revisited. Epstein has testified, advised, and drafted legislation both globally and locally. He has relentlessly exposed the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society as losing a winnable war on cancer for decades.
What is the social impact of cancer, and what are the known causes of cancer?
Cancer has reached epidemic proportions in recent decades, affecting roughly one in every two men and more than one in every three women in their lifetime. Even more concerning is the recent understanding that this extremely high cancer incidence rate will continue to rise and, by 2050, will have more than doubled the current extremely high incidence rate.
When it comes to non-lymphoma Hodgkin’s (the illness from which Jackie Kennedy died), the incidence has roughly tripled in the last several decades. When it comes to brain cancer, the incidence has increased by roughly 80 or 90 percent. Breast cancer has increased by approximately 60 or 65 percent. When it comes to testicular cancer, it has increased approximately 300 percent in men between the ages of 28 and 35. When it comes to juvenile malignancies, the incidence has risen by as much as 40-50 percent depending on the type of disease. All of these malignancies are not caused by smoking.
The general population believes that the true cause of the rise in cancer rates is smoking. There is little doubt that smoking is the single most important cause of all cancers; yet, studies show that lung cancer and other smoking-related malignancies account for one-third to one-quarter of the increased incidence of all cancers. In addition, the incidence of lung cancer in men is decreasing because men are quitting smoking, although it is increasing in women.
Is it because people are living longer lives that there are more cancers? The answer is no, since when we talk about cancer incidence rates, we modify them to reflect the population’s rising longevity.
Can genetics be the cause of this significant increase in cancer? Absolutely not. There’s no way the genetics of human populations have changed in the last 40-50 years. It takes tens of thousands of years for genetic effects to change in the broader population. As a result, one can rule out genetics while significantly limiting the influence of smoking.
What about a high-fat diet? There is very little evidence that fat is a cancer risk factor. For example, in Mediterranean countries, fat consumption is exceptionally high, particularly olive oil, which can account for up to 40% of the diet. However, cancer rates, particularly reproductive cancers, remain low. However, there are clear links between the consumption of animal and dairy fats and some malignancies. However, this is due to the fact that they are extensively contaminated with a variety of industrial, chemical, and petrochemical carcinogens.
There has been a tremendous increase in cancer incidence that cannot be explained by smoking, longevity, genetics, or a fatty diet.
Is this massive increase due to a lack of funds to fund the research required to explore all causes of cancer and provide this information to the public, Congress, and regulatory industries? No way in hell. In fact, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the American Cancer Society (ACS) have the following financials: When President Nixon announced the battle on cancer in 1971, the NCI’s annual budget was around $180 million. The budget is now $4.6 billion every year. That’s a thirtyfold rise. Similarly, the ACS’s budget has been increasing and is now near $800 million each year, with approximately $1 billion in cash and other reserves. The NCI and ACS comprise the “cancer establishment.” NCI is a governmental or federal agency that taxpayers fund, whereas ACS is the world’s largest non-profit, or “charity.”
What are the NCI and ACS’s perspectives on cancer causation and prevention?
First and foremost, they attempt to explain cancer by blaming the victim. It is your fault if you develop cancer. You smoke excessively. It’s a high-fat diet.” Or they believe that it is due to people spending too much time in the sun. There is no doubt that excessive sun exposure causes malignant melanoma and skin cancer, but this has nothing to do with any of the other major diseases I mentioned-brain cancer, non-lymphoma, Hodgkin’s breast, testicular, or childhood cancers. They parallel this emphasis on blaming the victim by rejecting, for the most part, a substantial corpus of scientific evidence on cancer’s avoidable causes or risk factors.
So, what are their policies? First and foremost, they perplex the audience by utilizing the words “secondary prevention.” They mean screening, diagnosis, and the use of drugs, vitamins, and other substances to help minimize cancer risks caused by previous carcinogen exposure. So, when they talk about how much money they spend on prevention, they not only exaggerate, but they also mislead the public by using the term secondary prevention. The cancer establishment is obsessed with “damage control”—screening, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer—rather than prevention.
For example, occupational exposure is a significant risk factor for prostate cancer in males and, to a lesser extent, breast cancer in women. Children who have parents who work in plants while their mother is pregnant have a higher rate of childhood cancer. Their parents bring occupational carcinogens into the home, and they are exposed to carcinogens that enter their bloodstream.
The NCI invests $15 million dollars, or less than one percent, of its $4.5 billion dollar annual budget on in-house research on occupational cancer. The ACS spends less than 0.1 percent of its cancer prevention budget on occupational, environmental, and other avoidable causes of cancer.
Many of us have blamed the cancer establishment for losing a potentially winnable campaign against cancer. “The American Cancer Society is more concerned in collecting riches than saving lives,” according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the premier American charity watchdog.
What are the conflicts of interest between the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and industry?
Conflicts of interest are very prevalent in the mammography sector—both the machine and the film industry. We have compelling evidence that pre-menopausal mammography is not only ineffective, but also harmful for a variety of reasons, including excessive radiation exposures. A pre-menopausal lady receives approximately 500 times the dose of a chest X-ray from two breast films. If a pre-menopausal woman has a mammogram every year for 10 years, the radiation dosages can easily equal to ten rads—a rad is a “radiation absorbed dose,” a measure of radiation exposure. The radiation dose from normal pre-menopausal mammography is comparable to what women received in Hiroshima and Nagasaki outside of the primary epicenter where the atomic bomb was detonated. Nonetheless, when questioned if there is an issue with the radiation, a radiologist will reassure ladies, “Well, my dear,” and will address them by their first name, “not at all.” It’s the same as spending a few days in Denver or flying across the Atlantic.” This is lying and manipulation at its finest.
The mammography industry is not the only one with conflicts of interest. The links between the NCI, ACS, and the cancer drug industry are well documented. Indeed, the previous director of the National Cancer Institute stated that the NCI had evolved into a “governmental pharmaceutical enterprise.”
As taxpayers, we fund a significant amount of cancer drug research. What happens once all of the research and development is completed? When a drug appears to be promising, it and all supporting research are transferred to an industry that charges exorbitant costs to customers. Citizens, for example, paid for the research and development of Taxol, which is then passed on to Bristol Meyers Squibb, who can charge up to 30-50 times more for the same drug. As a result, the taxpayer pays twice.
What are the causes of this big cancer epidemic if we can’t blame it on smoking, increasing longevity, genetics, or a fatty diet?
They are classified into three broad types. The first is about consumer goods. By consumer products, I mean anything that may be purchased in a store, such as food, cosmetics and toiletries, and domestic goods. In all of these categories, if informed about which items pose cancer risks, consumers can boycott them and shop for safer alternatives.
A wide range of pesticides and other industrial, chemical carcinogens have been found in animal and dairy products. Take, for example, meat. In addition to pesticides and industrial toxins, there are sex hormones. Cattle in feedlots are injected with sex hormones 100 days before slaughter, leaving high residues in the meat you eat. These are significant risk factors for reproductive cancers (testicular cancer in men, breast cancer in women) and childhood leukemia.
Hot dogs are popular among children. Hot dogs are coloured pink and red with nitrite, and the nitrite combines with certain amines—chemicals found naturally in food—to form nitrosamines, which are highly effective carcinogens. We have chemical evidence that nitrosamines are present in nitrite-dyed hot dogs. We also have epidemiological studies that suggest that children who consume nitrite in their dyed hot dogs—the conventional hot dog—have a three- to four-fold greater risk of brain cancer and a six- to seven-fold increased incidence of leukemia.
Aside from that, the majority of milk in this country is tainted. It is derived from cows who have been injected with a genetically modified growth hormone in order to improve milk output; this hormone raises levels of a natural growth factor known as IGF1. This growth factor, which has been linked to breast, prostate, and colon cancer at high levels, supercharges the milk.
Aside from food, cosmetics and hygiene are a cauldron of unknown carcinogens. When you look at the back of a shampoo bottle, you’ll notice roughly 20 compounds listed. This is meaningless because there is no indication of which of these substances are carcinogenic.
These compounds are classified into three types. Talcum powder, for example, has carcinogenic chemicals. Women, particularly pre-menopausal women, who dust their genital areas with talcum powder after showering and bathing, for example, have a three- to four-fold greater risk of ovarian cancer. There are also non-carcinogenic substances that, when broken down, release carcinogens such as formaldehyde. Finally, there are substances that interact with one another to generate carcinogens. Are women well-informed? Absolutely not.
Aside from groceries, cosmetics, and toiletries, domestic products are another type of consumer product. For example, many individuals use a deodorizer called Para in their toilets, bathrooms, and other places. Dichlorobenzene, a highly volatile, highly strong carcinogen, is present in para. However, there is no warning about this.
Pesticides in the home, lawn, or garden are extremely dangerous. If you use pesticides in and around your home, your dog is five times more likely to develop canine lymphoma, a common cancer in dogs. More crucially, there are significant excesses of childhood malignancies when pesticides are used in and around the home, lawn, or garden, as well as where carcinogenic chemical-containing pet collars are utilized.
So, given a choice, the customer may minimize his or her risk in these three areas of consumer items, but they are denied this information by the cancer establishment—a basic violation of the democratic right to know. So, in the first category, the general population may easily minimize their risk of cancer.
The second category is medical medications prescribed by your doctor. There is an informed consent requirement. When your doctor prescribes a medication, you have the right to be given basic information about the risks of that medication. However, in general, you are not. The drug firms either do not offer this information to doctors or the information is trivialized. The cancer establishment does not offer them with this knowledge.
Ritalin, for example, is a medication commonly used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) in youngsters. The United States consumes around ten times more per capita than any other country on the planet. If a child misbehaves in school, the parent is told that the child has ADD, and the doctor prescribes Ritalin, a highly dangerous carcinogenic drug that has also been proved in rodents to trigger very severe liver tumors.
Then there’s Evista or Raloxifene, the brand name. Ely Lily prescribes it for osteoporosis to millions of women throughout the world. There is clear evidence that Evista causes ovarian cancer, which Ely Lily has admitted in their own internal secret material.
When estrogen-based medications are taken for estrogen replacement therapy, particularly the estrogen pill alone without testosterone, 1 in every 100 women develops uterine cancer after 10 years. This is a high-risk situation. It is significantly higher than the 1 in 250 annual incidence of lung cancer among heavy smokers.
Let us now turn our attention to the third category: domestic, chemical terrorism. Petrochemicals and other businesses have contaminated our environment with a wide spectrum of petrochemical and other carcinogens, including air, water, workplaces, and meals. They did this despite knowing that these compounds are harmful. This is applicable not only to the petrochemical industry, but also to mining and other industries, particularly medical radiation. Why are we susceptible to these dangers? It is for the benefit of corporations that could simply phase out the use of chemical carcinogens and replace them with far safer chemicals through a process known as “toxic usage reduction.”
I haven’t discussed labor enough, but workplace exposure to carcinogens is the single most major cause of cancer in the country, not just for men, but also for women. We know that around one million women are exposed in the job to chemicals that cause breast cancer and, as previously said, lead to malignancies in children.
How can we reduce our reliance on harmful substances?
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts passed the Toxic Use Reduction Act in 1989, after a coalition of responsible industries, citizen groups, environmental groups, and the University of Massachusetts came together. They collaborated to demonstrate that it is possible to manufacture items safely and to phase out the use of harmful chemicals in favor of safer alternatives. In Massachusetts, the usage of carcinogenic chemicals and hazardous waste has decreased dramatically during the previous decade or so.
The Cancer Prevention Coalition published a paper titled Stop Cancer Before It Starts in February 2003. It’s essentially a strategy for winning the lost battle against cancer ( This program has received the support of nearly 100 independent cancer and cancer prevention experts. It has also received support from environmental, consumer, public interest, and labor organizations.
The Stop Cancer Before It Starts program is supported by socially conscious firms that are eliminating or have eliminated carcinogens from their goods.
On KMUD radio in Redway, California, David Ross broadcasts a conversation show.