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Tue Feb 25 12:24:42 2003 Pacific Time
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      National Cancer Institute Leadership Is Out of Touch With Reality, Warns Cancer Prevention Coalition Chairman, Samuel S. Epstein, M.D.

       CHICAGO, Feb. 25 (AScribe Newswire) -- In a speech to an advisory board, the Director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) pledged to eliminate "the suffering and death" from cancer by 2015.

       NCI Director Andrew von Eschenbach in a Feb. 11 speech to the National Cancer Advisory Board stated: "I have set out ... a challenge goal that shapes our mission and shapes our vision ... to eliminate the suffering and death due to cancer, and to do it by 2015."

       Dr. von Eschenbach's goal is irresponsible and unrealistic, said Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition. "What is the possible scientific basis for such claims?," Epstein asked. "Does Dr. von Eschenbach know something no one else knows? Is he familiar with the NCI data on incidence and mortality? What great advances or breakthroughs does he know, of which no one else is aware? Has he been talking with God?"

       Since 1971, the overall incidence of cancer has escalated to epidemic proportions, now striking about 1.3 million and killing about 550,000 annually; nearly one in two men and more than one in three women now develop cancer in their lifetimes. While smoking is unquestionably the single largest cause of cancer, the incidence of lung cancer in men has declined sharply. In striking contrast, there have been major increases in the incidence of a wide range of non-smoking cancers in men and women, and also of childhood cancers.

       The current cancer epidemic does not reflect lack of resources. Paradoxically, NCI's escalating budget is paralleled by the escalating incidence of cancer. Since 1971, NCI's budget has increased approximately 30-fold, from $220 million to $4.6 billion.

       The fundamental reason why we are losing the winnable war against cancer is because NCI's mindset is fixated on damage control--screening, diagnosis, and treatment--and basic research. This is coupled with indifference to preventing a wide range of avoidable exposures to industrial carcinogens, contaminating the totality of the environment--air, water, and soil--the workplace, and consumer products--food, cosmetics and toiletries and household products. This denial of the public's right-to-know of such avoidable cancer risks is in contrast to NCI's stream of press releases, briefings, and media reports claiming the latest advances in treatment and basic research.

       The silence of the NCI, along with the American Cancer Society (ACS), on avoidable causes of cancer has tacitly encouraged corporate polluters and industries to continue manufacturing and marketing carcinogenic products. This silence also violates amendments of the National Cancer Act, calling for "an expanded and intensified research program for the prevention of cancer caused by occupational or environmental exposure to carcinogens."

       Nevertheless, NCI's prevention policies are virtually restricted to faulty lifestyle considerations. As strikingly exemplified in von Eschenbach's recent speech, prevention is defined only in terms of tobacco, "energy balance" and obesity. However, this is hardly surprising as von Eschenbach was President-Elect of the ACS prior to his appointment as NCI Director. The ACS Cancer Facts and Figures 2002 dismissively reassures that carcinogenic exposures from dietary pesticides, "toxic wastes in dump sites," ionizing radiation from "closely controlled" nuclear power plants, and non-ionizing radiation, are all "at such low levels that risks are negligible."

       Dr. von Eschenbach also remains Director of ACS 1998 National Dialogue on Cancer, which seeks a major role in federal cancer policies. It may be further noted that The Chronicle of Philanthropy, the nation's leading charity watch dog, has charged that the ACS "is more interested in accumulating wealth than saving lives."

       These concerns are detailed in the Cancer Prevention Coalition (CPC) report, "Stop Cancer Before It Starts Campaign: How to Win the Losing War Against Cancer," released at a Feb. 20 Washington, D.C., press conference. This report is endorsed by some 100 leading cancer prevention scientists, public health and policy experts, and representatives of concerned citizen groups, who advocate major reforms of national cancer policies.

       Contact: Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., Chairman, Cancer Prevention Coalition (CPC), 2121 West Taylor Street, MC 922, Chicago, IL 60612; phone 312-996-2297; epstein@uic.edu

       The Stop Cancer Campaign Report, and expressions of Congressional concern are available on the CPC website www.preventcancer.com. For a transcript of Dr. von Eschenbach's Feb. 11 speech, see The Cancer Letter, Feb. 14, 2003.

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      Media Contact: Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., 312-996-2297; epstein@uic.edu

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