When Richard Nixon began an “all out war” on cancer with the National Cancer Act in 1971, a concerned public expected great strides to be made. Members of the American Cancer Society (ACS) were the major political force behind the Act which has resulted in a National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) budget of over $800 million a year, compared to $190 million in 1971.
Now over six years and $4 billion later, the U. S. still has the highest record for cancer occurrence–being 50 percent above the world average, while the chance for an American to survive cancer has not increased more than 1 percent since the late 1940’s. Forty percent of the research funds go to contract research which is barely reviewed and invites abuse and poor quality work. The Special Virus Cancer Program, which cost half a billion dollars and determined viruses have nothing to do with cancer, is representative of this self-perpetuating bureaucracy.
A very ambitious and widely publicized program was the Breast Cancer Detection Demonstration which screened 270,000 women between the ages of 35 and 70, but because radiation precautions were not taken, there is a high risk that more women under 50, who made up 85 percent of the program, will die from cancer than be saved by the project. At least 70 known women underwent unnecessary breast surgery as a result of the program.
Probably the most important drawback to cancer research in this country has been the lack of attention given to banning carcinogenic chemicals. Despite government estimates that 50-90 percent of cancer is caused by environmental factors, the ACS has refused to support such bills as the Toxic Substance Control Act and has never pushed a ban on any carcinogenic product. ACS-backed industry groups actually fought to keep saccharin on the market. The NCI has also recently cut from 150 to 37 the number of suspected carcinogens it tests each year. The ACS gives a low priority to environmental research because it seems to be basically a doctor service agency, with a board of doctors, scientists, and business executives who are more comfortable with research, treatment, and early diagnosis, than challenges to corporate polluters and calls for increased government regulation.
“Diagnosis and treatment, although necessary,” explains Dr. Sidney Wolfe, Director of Nader’s Health Research Group, “do create new industries or expand existing ones; more x-ray equipment, drugs, operations, buildings. Prevention cuts into the profit margins of existing industries which have thus far been able to escape the costs of the cancer they cause.” The ineffective expenditure of billions of dollars and the continuing high incidence of cancer in this country qualifies this story for nomination as one of the “best censored stories of 1977.”
“Cancer, Inc.,” by Ruth Rosenbaum, New Times, November 25, 1977, p. 28-43.
“Cancer Society Seeks Cure, Neglects Causes,” by Jim Rosapepe, Politiks, December 6, 1977, p. 25.