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The Politics of Cancer
*Follow-up note from last week:* The referenced William Hartung report on
the military-industrial complex can be accessed at
Here is this week's column:
In 1999, one in two American men and one in three American women will get
cancer. In the 1950s, one in four Americans were afflicted with this
Despite the expenditure of $25 billion since the war on cancer was
declared by President Nixon in 1971, cancer rates have soared. Why?
In a recently released book, Dr. Samuel Epstein reveals evidence
implicating industrial carcinogens that permeate our environment -- in our
foods, our air, our water, our consumer products.
And he blames the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the American Cancer
Society (ACS) -- what he calls "the cancer establishment" -- for ignoring
these causes and instead spending billions on the elusive search for a
magic bullet cure for cancer.
Epstein maintains that with a comprehensive program of prevention, we can
drive cancer rates back down to the relatively low rates of the 1950s.
Every couple of months or so there is a major story in the national press
about a breakthrough in cancer treatment. These breakthroughs rarely pan
out and thus cruelly raise the hopes of cancer victims worldwide.
These stories are hyped by mainstream journalists who have for the most
part ignored the Dr. Epstein's work -- most recently in The Politics of
Cancer Revisited (East Ridge Press, Fremont Center, New York, 1998. Copies
can be ordered through Dr. Epstein's web site (www.preventcancer.com) or
from the publisher by calling 1-800-269-2921).
This emphasis on a corporate cure fits well with the megacorporate agenda
of externalizing toxics to increase profits, thus riddling the population
with higher cancer rates and needless suffering.
As Dr. Epstein points out, from 1950 to 1998, the overall incidence of
cancer rose about 60 percent, with much higher increases for cancer of
some organs. For non-Hodgkins lymphoma and multiple myeloma, the increase
has been 200 percent. Breast cancers have increased by 60 percent.
Prostate cancer has increased 200 percent. For testicular cancer in men of
the ages 28 to 35, there has been a 300 percent increase since 1950.
And don't let anybody fool you into thinking that the cancer rate increase
is because the population is getting older -- these rates are
age-adjusted. The cancer rates of a group of 50 year old men in 1990, for
example, are compared to the cancer rates of a group of men in 1950.
So, why is the cancer establishment losing the war against cancer?
"The cancer establishment is fixated on damage control -- diagnosis,
treatment and basic genetic research -- and is indifferent, if not
sometimes hostile, to cancer prevention -- getting carcinogens out of the
environment," Epstein told us recently. "The second factor is conflicts of
interests, which are significant when it comes to the National Cancer
Institute, but profound and overwhelming when it comes to the American
Cancer Society. In the book, I go into great detail on conflicts between
the American Cancer Society and the cancer drug industry, the mammography
industry, the pesticide industry, and other such industries."
According to Epstein, the outgoing director of the National Cancer
Institute left that organization to go to the cancer drug industry.
Another NCI director in the 1970s left NCI to go to the American Cancer
Society and from there to head up the fiberglass industry (fiberglass is a
Epstein charges that the cancer establishment is misleading people into
believing that it is spending a good chunk of its stashed away billions on
prevention -- which is untrue.
For example, Epstein says that the budget for occupational cancer is under
1 percent of the total NCI budget ($2.8 billion in 1998). Yet occupational
cancers comprise at least 10 percent of all cancers in the country, he
says, and are among the most preventable of all cancers.
So, if Epstein were the general in charge, what would he do to win the war
In 1992, Epstein and 64 other experts in public health, preventive health
and carcinogenesis called on the cancer establishment to clearly recognize
and publicly state that cancer is largely avoidable and to increase its
present minuscule appropriations for cancer prevention so that they
achieve parity with diagnosis, treatment and basic research over a period
of a few years.
Then, they suggested, the cancer establishment must conduct detailed
studies of the wide range of avoidable and involuntary carcinogenic
exposures -- and Congress must act to get them out of the environment.
For example, Representative Henry Waxman, D-California, has proposed that
consumers be notified, through their water bills, of the carcinogens in
their water and their concentrations. Such direct information to consumers
on the carcinogenic assault on their bodies would justly create a
Epstein also supports legislation that would make it a crime for any
corporation or corporate executive to knowingly introduce a new carcinogen
into the environment.
Looking for high crimes and misdemeanors? Read Dr. Epstein's book.
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime
Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based
(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman
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