The American Cancer Society Allegiance to Big Pharma Profits

The American Cancer Society

  • Attacks Alternative Medicine Therapies
  • “There go our profits”

For years, the American Cancer Society has actively attacked potential competitors through its “Committee on Unproven Methods of Cancer Management,” which was formed to “examine” unorthodox or alternative remedies. This committee, which was staffed by “volunteer health care professionals,” invariably promoted mainstream, expensive, and potentially toxic drugs patented by major pharmaceutical companies while opposing alternative or “unproven” therapies, which are generally inexpensive, non-patentable, and minimally toxic. As with Senator Joseph McCarthy’s blacklist of suspected communists, once a doctor or oncologist was linked to “unproven treatments,” harassment and blacklisting were common, and funding dried up. This witch hunt against alternative practitioners contrasted sharply with the Society’s unwavering support for conventional toxic chemotherapy, despite growing concern that chemotherapy may not appreciably enhance survival rates for most cancers. Following an extensive review of clinical oncology studies, Dr. Ulrich Abel of the Institute of Epidemiology and Biometry at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, concluded that chemotherapy serves as little more than a placebo for most patients, with a corresponding decline in quality of life from the toxic treatment.

Cancer patients have been increasingly frustrated—but also more organized—over the last two decades. Disillusioned with the cancer establishment’s definitions of “progress” and “prevention,” and tired of the deadly side effects of traditional treatments, grassroots cancer activists persuaded forty members of Congress to look into the efficacy of alternative medicines. The job was assigned to the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), a legislative think tank. OTA identified 200 interesting studies on alternative treatments in 1990 and stated that the NCI had “a required responsibility to explore this information and assist assessment of commonly used ‘unconventional cancer treatments’ for therapeutic potential.”

Nonetheless, prominent cancer organizations have not implemented the OTA’s suggestions. The American Cancer Society, for example, described the Hoxsey treatment, a nontoxic combination of plant extracts developed in the 1940s by populist Harry Hoxsey, as a “worthless tonic for cancer” in the January 1991 issue of its Cancer Journal for Clinicians. However, Dr. Patricia Spain Ward, a key contributor to the OTA report, determined the opposite: “More current literature leaves no doubt that Hoxsey’s mixture does indeed contain many plant components of considerable therapeutic activity.” When Healing Becomes a Crime, Kenny Ausubel’s recently published book, details the cancer establishment’s unrelenting—and scientifically unsubstantiated—attacks on the Hoxsey therapy and other promising new medicines, without even attempting to study their efficacy.

This is not the first time that the American Cancer Society’s quackery claims have been put into doubt or debunked. Other novel therapies that were first opposed by the American Cancer Society are gaining favor. Hyperthemia, Tumor Necrosis Factor (formerly known as Coleys’ Toxin), hydrazine sulfate, and Burzynski’s antineoplastons are examples of these. Over 100 promising nonpatented and nontoxic alternative medicines have already been identified. Clearly, such treatments need clinical testing and review with money from the ACS and NCI, using identical statistical methodologies and criteria as those developed for conventional chemotherapy.

The National Institutes of Health established its own agency, the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM), in 1992 to examine alternative ways to treatment, bypassing the typically unresponsive NCI and ACS. Eight years following the OTA’s report, Congress elevated the OAM to the status of an autonomous institute, The National Center for Complementary Alternative Medicine, in 1998. Soon after, the American Cancer Society relented in its decades-long campaign against “quackery.”


Excerpted from “The High Stakes of Cancer Prevention” by Samuel Epstein and Liza Gross, Tikkun Magazine, Nov/Dec 2000


Samuel S. Epstein, M.D.

Cancer Prevention Coalition

University of Illinois at Chicago

School of Public Health

2121 W. Taylor St., MC 922

Chicago, IL 60612