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

to treat.

  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 ; e-mail .

  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 ; e-mail .



SOURCE  Cancer Prevention Coalition