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New Book Blames National Cancer Institute and American Cancer Society for Losing War on Cancer

A Review by Donna Morin Miller

While the Canadian Cancer Society has thus far sent SafeLawns through seven Canadian provinces to speak about the dangers of pesticide exposure and was a major sponsor of Brett Plymale’s award-winning film, A Chemical Reaction, you won’t see this kind of support from its American counterparts anytime soon.


In his latest book, National Cancer Institute and American Cancer Society: Criminal Indifference to Cancer Prevention and Conflicts of Interest, Dr. Samuel S. Epstein argues the NCI and ACS have spent billions of its taxpayer and charitable dollars on treatment research, to the exclusion of prevention focus, which has allowed cancer rates to skyrocket.

Professor emeritus of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at the University of Illinois School of Public Health and Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, Epstein has published a number of peer-reviewed articles, as well as 20 books, including the prize-winning 1978 Politics of Cancer.

Epstein claims that the more cancer there is, the more the budget for the NCI goes up, through government funding and charitable giving. The 2001 NCI Cancer Report stated that cancer prevention was a priority, yet it reported that only 12 percent of its then $3.75 billion budget went to prevention focus. It’s been the same for the ACS, consistently spending less than a third of its budget on research and programs.

Has it always been this way? According to Sourcewatch, both the ACS and the NCI have long been opposed to smoking. In 1962 and 1971, respectively, both organizations publicly declared that smoking was linked to lung cancer. The 1970s saw the “War on Cancer” and the “Great American Smokeout.” The organizations stood firm, even while being skewered by the tobacco industry. In the decades since, lung cancer rates have dropped as the number of people smoking declines.

But while lung cancer has declined, other cancer rates are rising. While the ACS and NCI spend most of their budgets on treatment research, very little attention is paid to preventive measures. In 2009, the BBC News reported researchers from the National Cancer Institute found that those who consumed the highest amount of daily red meat had the higest risk for cancer and heart disease. Yet on its own website, the NCI does not report these findings under their prevention category, choosing instead to focus on meats cooked at a high temperature. The ACS does the same, and muddies the waters by adding, “Although these chemicals can damage DNA and cause cancer in animals, it is not clear how much they may contribute to the increased colorectal cancer risk seen in people who eat large amounts of meat…”

So why, when the NCI and ACS came out so strongly against smoking three decades ago, are they not doing the same with the information available today?

One word. Funding.

The American Cancer Society Foundation was created in 1992 for the sole purpose of actively soliciting contributions of more than $100,000. According to the Cancer Prevention Coaltion, some of the heavy-hitters sitting on the board of the Foundation in the past have included David Bethune, president of Lederle Laboratories- a multinational pharmaceutical company. Bethune was also vice president of Laderle’s parent company, American Cyanamid (now known as Cytec), makers of chemical pesticides. (Mr. Bethune is now CEO and chairman of Zila, Inc., makers of ViziLite Technology for early detection of oral cancer. He recently attended a hearing of the House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs to encourage funding that would provide this technology for veterans.) Gordon Binder also sat on the Board. He was CEO of Amgen, a biotech company most well-known for its production of Neupogen- used in chemotherapy treatments. (Binder is now managing director for Coastview Capital, a venture capital firm that funds biotech industry.) Today, Gary Reedy can be counted among the board members. He is vice president of biopharmaceutical public policy and advocacy with Johnson & Johnson.

In 2005, the Organic Consumers Association reported that Dr. Michael Thun, of the ACS, did not deny the agency’s connections to industry. He said, “The American Cancer Society views relationships with corporations as a source of revenue for cancer prevention. That can be construed as an inherent conflict of interest, or it can be construed as a pragmatic way to get funding to support cancer control.”

That same year, grass-roots cancer-prevention advocates worked to pass the California Safe Cosmetics Act. This legislation requires cosmetic companies divulge any potential carcinogens in their products to state health officials — not a typical practice. Although this seems like a cause the American Cancer Society would have jumped behind, the most powerful cancer-lobbying organization in the world remained silent. While the industry denied the reason for its silence was due to industry influence, Sourcewatch reports that the bill’s major opponent- the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association- gives millions of dollar annually to the ACS’s “Look Good, Feel Better” make-up program for cancer patients.

And what about pesticides? The ACS gives barely a nod to these toxins, stating that, “At present, there is no evidence that residues of pesticides and herbicides at the low doses found in foods increase the risk of cancer.” Yet, as reported by the Organic Consumers Association, in the Journal of the American Cancer Society, a study was published in 1999 linking exposure to glyphosate- the active ingredient in Round-Up herbicides — with increased risk for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

As Epstein shows, neither organization is likely to change as long as they remain bed-fellows with the industry. According to Epstein, the ACS has particularly close relations with the mammography industry. It continues to promote the benefits of annual mammograms for cancer prevention, despite research that indicates mammography has only a “modest” impact on reducing breast cancer deaths.

Responding to the Budget Resolutions passed with the Health Care Reform package in 2009, Daniel Smith, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said this: “In addition to making a commitment to health care reform, the Budget Resolutions are a first step toward increasing funding for prevention and cancer research in the FY 2010. We already have many of the tools we need to detect a disease that will kill an estimated 560,000 people in America this year, but we must ensure that all Americans have access to critical screenings and treatments. Further, we need money for research to develop tests and treatments for those deadly cancers for which we still lack answers.”

More money to develop more tests and treatments.

Forget about informing the public of the advantages to living healthier lifestyles. To eating less meat, getting exercise, or sticking with organic fruits and vegetables. Forget about letting them know of studies linking chemicals on their lawns to a number of cancers. No, that would be too easy.

And not profitable.

Looks like SafeLawns will need to find another sponsor for our American tour.

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