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Secret History of the War on Cancer


In Loving Memory of My Beautiful Son

Michael

Born 21/9/1991 Passed On 29/9/2008

 

Michael in America January 2008


 The Secret History Of The War On Cancer is a must read book.

The real issue of cancer is not the so called magical cure from drugs but the prevention of cancer much of which is avoidable.

 

Children shouldn’t use cellphones. No one should drink diet sodas sweetened with aspartame. And think twice before getting X-rayed with a CAT scan except in a bona fide life-threatening emergency. That’s just some of the precautionary advice that epidemiologist Devra Davis, who runs the runs the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, delivers in her new book, “The Secret History of the War on Cancer.”

Davis, who is a professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and formerly served in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, argues that the United States’ $40 billion “war on cancer” has focused far too much on treatment, and not nearly enough on prevention. There’s a lot of blame to go around here, and Davis serves it to up to the scientific community, the government, polluting industries and even cancer advocacy groups. For instance, in the late ’60s, three years after the surgeon general declared that smoking causes cancer, the United States spent $30 million of taxpayer money to create a safer cigarette, essentially doing the tobacco companies’ research and development for them. Needless to say, this effort failed, but it succeeded in giving the tobacco companies cover, assuring smokers that a safer cigarette was just around the corner.

Davis argues that again and again, from tobacco to benzene to asbestos, the profit motive has trumped concerns about public health, delaying, sometimes for decades, the containment of avoidable hazards. And, as in the current scientific “debate” about global warming, the legitimate need for ongoing scientific research about many possible carcinogens has been exploited by industry to promote the idea that there’s really no need to worry.

In “The Secret History of the War on Cancer,” we meet one of the foremost epidemiologists of the 20th century, who is revealed after his death to have been on the take from Monsanto to the tune of $1,500 a day, and we visit the site of former towns that have literally disappeared, like Times Beach, Mo., which since being declared a toxic waste site, has been incinerated, reduced to some grass, geraniums and tulips — the only signs that anyone ever once lived there.

 

Oct. 8, 2007 | Children shouldn't use cellphones. No one should drink diet sodas sweetened with aspartame. And think twice before getting X-rayed with a CAT scan except in a bona fide life-threatening emergency. That's just some of the precautionary advice that epidemiologist Devra Davis, who runs the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, delivers in her new book, "The Secret History of the War on Cancer."

Davis, who is a professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and formerly served in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, argues that the United States' $40 billion "war on cancer" has focused far too much on treatment, and not nearly enough on prevention. There's a lot of blame to go around here, and Davis serves it to up to the scientific community, the government, polluting industries and even cancer advocacy groups. For instance, in the late '60s, three years after the surgeon general declared that smoking causes cancer, the United States spent $30 million of taxpayer money to create a safer cigarette, essentially doing the tobacco companies' research and development for them. Needless to say, this effort failed, but it succeeded in giving the tobacco companies cover, assuring smokers that a safer cigarette was just around the corner.

Davis argues that again and again, from tobacco to benzene to asbestos, the profit motive has trumped concerns about public health, delaying, sometimes for decades, the containment of avoidable hazards. And, as in the current scientific "debate" about global warming, the legitimate need for ongoing scientific research about many possible carcinogens has been exploited by industry to promote the idea that there's really no need to worry.

In "The Secret History of the War on Cancer," we meet one of the foremost epidemiologists of the 20th century, who is revealed after his death to have been on the take from Monsanto to the tune of $1,500 a day, and we visit the site of former towns that have literally disappeared, like Times Beach, Mo., which since being declared a toxic waste site, has been incinerated, reduced to some grass, geraniums and tulips -- the only signs that anyone ever once lived there.

Yet, traversing this grim territory, Davis remains optimistic that much more can be done to prevent cancer. She's heartened by the work of advocacy groups like the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and Breast Cancer Action, which asks that during this month of Breast Cancer Awareness you "think before you pink," since some of the companies jumping on the breast cancer awareness bandwagon actually make products that may contribute to the disease. And Davis is hopeful that the green revolution in everything from architecture to home-cleaning products to fashion to healthcare will not only help save the earth but will actually reduce all our toxic body burdens.

In the U.S., one out of every two men and one out of every three women will develop cancer in their lifetimes. How have those rates changed in recent decades?

Deaths in the United States have fallen from cancer, because smoking has fallen so much, and smoking is such a major cause of cancer. We've also improved our ability to find and treat colorectal cancer.

The good news is that deaths are falling. The bad news is the incidence has increased for a number of forms of cancer, for example, testicular cancer. Lance Armstrong is the poster child for the remarkable successes of chemotherapy, but he's also emblematic of the dramatic increased risk of testicular cancer throughout the industrial world.

Testicular cancer in men under age 40 has risen 50 percent in a decade. What are the theories about why there might be such a radical increase?

In the United States and Japan, there has been a significant decline in the birth of baby boys. What does this have to do with testicular cancer? Well, there's a theory of testicular dysgenesis, which means that there is something on the Y chromosome that is transmitted to boys that is affecting their overall health, and it may affect whether or not a boy sperm works to fertilize an egg.

Something is affecting fathers' ability to make baby boys, which may also be affecting the ability of the boys that are conceived to become fathers. It may be affecting sperm count, which is declining. It may also be affecting development of testicular cancer, which peaks in young men in their 20s. And these things are likely to be related to early life exposures to hormone-mimicking chemicals.

What chemicals?

Pesticides, alcohol, lead and solvents have all been shown in occupational studies to reduce the ability of men to father boys and to increase the risk of birth defects in the babies that they have, including cancer. There's recently been a report from the Arctic Assessment of many more girls than boys being born. If something is affecting such an exquisitely sensitive part of human biology, then what else is it doing to us?

When we read about a study that says XYZ substance causes cancer in rats, how should we interpret it?

We differ with rodents by about 300 genes. That's it. The differences aren't nearly as big as some people would like you to think.

We use animal research to develop drugs. But when it comes to evidence that something causes cancer in an animal, something that might be used in our schools and homes, we say: "Well, wait. We better get proof of human harm." How can we say that we'll rely on animal studies when we're trying to invent drugs, and then deny their relevance to us when we're trying to predict, and prevent, human harms?

What's the alternative?

The alternative is to do experiments on people, or worse, which is what we are doing -- a vast uncontrolled experiment. We will never be able to answer many of these questions, because there is no control group. Who isn't exposed to cellphones? Who isn't exposed to aspartame? Who's not exposed to solar radiation? And that makes it very difficult to do studies of human health consequences. It really does.

We have a lot of natural experiments out there. For example, asbestos mining was a natural experiment, unfortunately, and it went on for far too long. We didn't start to control it until the '70s.

There are a lot of things that we're late to do. Why don't we have a national ban on smoking in public? Italy, Ireland, Bulgaria and Uruguay have banned smoking in public.

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