How the Losing Cancer War Is Being Spun Warns Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., And Quentin D. Young, M.D.
CHICAGO, Feb. 23 /PRNewswire/ — In politics, spinning is an art form.
Most accept spinning as a fact of life, whether choosing a politician or
merely a bar of soap. However, few would accept this gamesmanship for life and
death issues of cancer, particularly if the spinning is underwritten by
But, when it comes to the cancer war, the Pollyannaish promises of the
federal National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the non-profit American Cancer
Society (ACS) are no more reliable than political flack.
Recent headlines in national newspapers, based on NCI and ACS assurances,
report that the “Rate of Cancer Deaths Continues to Drop.” This reinforces
longstanding claims of miracle “breakthrough” treatments, that mortality would
be halved by 2000, that the nation had “turned the corner” in the cancer war,
and that “considerable progress has been made in reducing the burden of
cancer.” However, these claims don’t even pass the laugh test.
Cancer death rates have remained unchanged since President Nixon declared
the 1971 War Against Cancer. Nearly one in two men, and more than one in
three women are now struck by cancer. Cancer has become a disease of “mass
Contrary to the NCI and ACS, the current cancer epidemic is not due to
faulty lifestyle-smoking, unhealthy diet, and obesity. American men smoke
less today, and lung cancer rates are steadily dropping. In striking
contrast, the incidence of environmentally, and non-smoking related cancers
has escalated sharply: non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma by 71 percent, testes and
thyroid cancers by 54 percent each, post-menopausal breast cancer by 37
percent, and myeloid leukemia by 15 percent; various childhood cancers have
increased from 20 to 60 percent. For African Americans, the news is worse:
incidence rates have increased by up to 120 percent.
The escalating incidence of non-smoking adult cancers and childhood
cancers is paralleled by the 30-fold increase in NCI’s budget from
$220 million in 1972 to the current $4.6 billion. The ACS budget has
increased from $130 to $800 million, with about $1 billion in reserves. It
seems that the more we spend on cancer, the more cancer we get.
The reason we are losing this winnable war is because NCI and ACS
priorities remain fixated on damage control — screening, diagnosis, and
treatment — and related basic research. All merit substantial funding.
However, less funding would be needed if more cancer was prevented, with less
Responding to criticisms of such imbalanced priorities, NCI now allocates
12% of its budget to “prevention and control,” and requires its nationwide
Centers to have a “prevention component.” However, cancer prevention
continues to be narrowly defined in terms of faulty lifestyle, and screening,
and excludes any reference to avoidable causes of cancer from exposures to
industrial carcinogens. These include: contaminants of air, water, food, and
the workplace; ingredients in cosmetics and toiletries, and household
products, particularly pesticides.
NCI’s indifference to such avoidable causes of cancer extends to denial.
For example, NCI claims that, “The causes of childhood cancer are largely
unknown,” in spite of substantial contrary evidence. Similarly, ACS reassures
that carcinogenic exposures from dietary pesticides, “toxic wastes in dump
sites,” and radiation from “closely controlled” nuclear power plants are all
“at such low levels that risks are negligible.”
Not surprisingly, Congressman John Conyers (D-MI), Ranking Member of the
House Judiciary Committee and Dean of the Congressional Black Caucus, recently
warned that so much cancer carnage is preventable. “Preventable, that is if
the NCI gets off the dime and does its job.”
NCI and ACS policies are compounded by conflicts of interest, particularly
with the cancer drug industry. In a 1998 Washington Post interview, Dr.
Samuel Broder, NCI’s former Director, dropped a bombshell: “The NCI has
become what amounts to a government pharmaceutical company.” Broder resigned
from the NCI to become successive Chief Officer of two major cancer drugs
The ACS has a fund raising apparatus which would make any Presidential
candidate blush. Apart from public donations, the ACS swims in the largesse
of over 300 Excalibur industry donors, each contributing over $100,000
annually. These include over 25 drug and biotech companies, and petrochemical
and oil industries. Unbelievably, ACS legislative initiatives are handled by
Edelman PR, the major lobbyist of the tobacco industry, and fast food and
beverage companies, now targeted by anti-obesity litigation.
Not surprisingly, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, the nation’s leading
charity watchdog, has charged: “The ACS is more interested in accumulating
wealth than saving lives.”
The cancer war is certainly winnable, given radical changes in its high
command and priorities, and given information on avoidable industrial causes
of cancer is provided to the public and Congress. The President has finally
conceded the need for an independent commission to investigate
misrepresentations that led us into the war on Iraq. We should use a similar
commission to investigate the much more lethal failure of the cancer war.
Samuel S. Epstein, M.D. is Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition,
and professor emeritus of Environmental & Occupational Medicine at the
University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health. Phone
312-996-2297; web www.preventcancer.com ; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .
Quentin D. Young, M.D. is Chairman of the Health and Medicine Policy
Research Group, and past President of the American Public Health Association.
Phone 312-372-4292; web www.hmprg.org ; e-mail email@example.com .
SOURCE Cancer Prevention Coalition