WE CAN'T CURE CANCER, BUT WE CAN PREVENT IT: Costly Cancer "Treatment" Booming While Prevention Is Ignored

By Montague, Peter | CCPA Monitor, December/January 2005 | Go to article overview
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WE CAN'T CURE CANCER, BUT WE CAN PREVENT IT: Costly Cancer "Treatment" Booming While Prevention Is Ignored


Montague, Peter, CCPA Monitor


Cancer has surpassed heart disease as the No. 1 killer of people younger than 85, and now a detailed report on the causes of cancer tells us why: cancer has been steadily increasing for 50 years as people have been exposed to more and more cancer-causing agents, including chemicals and radiation.

Richard Clapp, Genevieve Howe, and Molly Jacobs Lefevre have just published Environmental and Occupational Causes of Cancer: A Review of Recent Scientific Literature, and it is a real eye-opener.

But, before we dive into this report looking for nuggets, let's set the background.

About half of all cancer cases are fatal, and death by cancer is often prolonged, painful, and very expensive. Those who manage to survive cancer live out their lives molded by the after-effects of harsh treatments popularly known as "slash and burn"-surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or some combination of the three.

As more people are kept alive each year with their breasts or testicles removed, the "cancer establishment" chalks up another "victory"-and no doubt the victims are glad to be alive-but we should acknowledge that there's something very wrong with calling this "victory." Slash and burn seems more like a dreadful defeat.

The truth is that an epic struggle has been going on for 50 years between the "slash and burn=victory" camp, versus those who think the only real victory is prevention of disease. The struggle occurs across a fault line defined by money. To be blunt about it, there's no money in prevention, and once you've got cancer you'll pay anything to try to stay alive. Cancer treatment is therefore a booming business, and cancer prevention is nowhere. That is the basic dynamic of the debate. Cancer surgeons can achieve the status of rock stars among their peers. Those who advocate prevention will most likely find themselves without funding, ridiculed and despised by the chemical industry, the pesticide industry, the asbestos industry, the oil industry, and all their minions-lawyers, bankers, engineers, reporters, professors, and politicians-who make a fat living off those who pump out cancer-causing products and dump out cancer-causing by-products, aka toxic waste.

The debate began 50 years ago when a powerful voice for prevention in the United States spoke out from inside the National Cancer Institute (NCI). In 1948. Wilhelm Hueper, a senior NCI scientist, wrote: "Environmental carcinogenesis is the newest and one of the most ominous of the end-products of our industrial environment. Though its full scope and extent are still unknown, because it is so new and because the facts are so extremely difficult to obtain, enough is known to make it obvious that extrinsic [outside-the-body] carcinogens present a very immediate and pressing problem in public and individual health."

In 1964, Hueper and his NCI colleague, W. C. Conway, described patterns in cancer incidence as "an epidemic in slow motion": "Through a continued, unrestrained, needless, avoidable, and reckless increasing contamination of the human environment with chemical and physical carcinogens and with chemicals supporting and potentiating their action, the stage is being set indeed for a future occurrence of an acute, catastrophic epidemic, which, once present, cannot effectively be checked for several decades with the means available, nor can its course appreciably be altered once it has been set in motion," they wrote.

Hueper, of course, was right. This is why 50% of all men and 40% of all women now hear the chilling words, "You've got cancer" at some point in their lives. That's right, one out of every two men now get cancer in the U.S., and more than one out of every three women.

Clapp, Howe and Lefevre tell us that, between 1950 and 2001, the incidence rate for all types of cancer increased by 85%, using age-adjusted data, which means cancer isn't increasing because people are living longer. People are getting more cancer because they're exposed to more cancer-causing agents.

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