Losing the Cancer War


By Dr. Samuel Epstein, occupational-environmental medicine, professor, University of Illinois, and Ralph Moss, who wrote The Cancer Industry


Comment, USA Today, December 23, 1991, p. 13A


On Dec. 23, 1971, President Nixon signed the National Cancer Act. The "War Against Cancer" was inaugurated, and the cure for cancer was promised by the Bicentennial.


Twenty years, billions of dollars and millions of deaths later, no cure is in sight. We're losing the war.


Cancer now strikes one in three and kills one in four Americans--500,000 last year alone. Since 1950, overall incidence rates have increased by 40%. Cancers of the breast, of prostate and colon in men have escalated 60%; cancers in children, 30%. Less common cancers have increased more than 100%.


These statistics are frightening but understate the full story. Cancer rates are even higher among blacks, urban poor and 11 million workers in petrochemical, metal and nuclear industries. Over recent decades, our whole environment--food, air, water and workplace--has become progressively permeated with cancer-causing industrial chemicals.


Our ability to cure most advanced cancers scarcely has improved since 1971. For example, the five-year survival rate for non-localized breast cancer remains a static 18%. 


But what about emerging "cures" we were promised, such as Taxol or genetic engineering? Remember the cancer vaccine? Remember interferon, miracle cures of the '70s?


In truth, few scientists believe their work will result in cures any time soon. But such hype secures next year's funding for hungry bureaucrats and researchers.


This "cancer establishment" pushes highly toxic and expensive drugs, patented by major pharmaceutical firms which also have close links to cancer centers. Is it any wonder they refuse to investigate innovative approaches developed outside their own institutions?


Last year, the Office of Technology Assessment found almost 200 scientific studies supporting such methods. It urged the National Center Institute to investigate. But NCI continues to stonewall.


The same cancer establishment, with Congress' tacit approval, stands by as the Bush Administration guts the Delaney Amendment, the 1958 law banning deliberate introduction of pesticides and other avoidable carcinogens into our food.


We clearly need a complete restructuring of the losing war against cancer. Prevention must get the highest priority. Industrial carcinogens must be phased out or banned. Innovative non-toxic therapies must get independent evaluation.


Until then, Congress must refuse to fund NCI and the public should boycott the bloated American Cancer Society.


Only such a grass-roots movement of determined citizens can force politicians--including presidential candidates--to make the fight against cancer a top national priority.