History of the War on Cancer
Dr. Ben Kim
many years now, I have explained to questioning family members and friends why
I cannot support conventional cancer-fighting fundraising campaigns.
am not completely against conventional medical treatment options for different
types of cancer. For example, for a good number of people that I have worked with
over the past several years, I have fully supported and encouraged surgical excision
of malignant tumours. My wariness of the mainstream cancer-fighting industry pertains
to what I believe is excessive and often times inappropriate use of chemotherapy
and radiation, as well as the lack of attention that is given to relevant environmental
and personal lifestyle factors.
long last, a devastating and truly noteworthy book on this topic has been published.
It's called The
Secret History of the War on Cancer, written by Devra
Davis, PhD, MPH.
am grateful to have the permission of Andrew
Nikiforuk, a well known Canadian journalist, to share his impressive review
of Dr. Davis' book.
earnestly hope that The
Secret History of the War on Cancer becomes a bestseller, as I believe that
the people of our world desperately need to absorb its message.
Nikiforuk's Review of The
Secret History of the War on Cancer, written by Devra Davis, PhD, MPH.
1936, the world's cancer experts assembled in Brussels to talk shop. The gathering
heard a lot about workshop hazards and environmental toxins. A British scientist,
who had studied identical twins, argued that cancer wasn't inherited, but mostly
the product of early chemical exposures in life. A meticulous Argentine showed
how sunlight combined with hydrocarbons could sprout tumours on rats. Others explained
how regular exposure to the hormone estrogen prompted male rodents to grow unseemly
breasts. Everyone agreed that arsenic and benzene were workplace killers, too.
then, the cancer establishment has retreated from the truth faster than Canada's
commitment to a greener country. What began as sincere investigation into the
economic root causes of a complex set of 200 different diseases, at the turn of
the 20th century, quickly degenerated into a single-minded focus on treatments
after the Second World War, argues Devra Davis, one of North America's sharpest
epidemiologists (her previous book, When
Smoke Ran Like Water: Tales of Environmental Deception and the Battle Against
Pollution, was a finalist for the National Book Award).
the process, industry and its propaganda hit men have used every opportunity to
discredit, dismiss or disparage information on cancer hazards in the workplace
or at home. So let me warn comfortable readers here and now. This courageous and
altogether horrible book is about as unsettling as it can get. It painstakingly
documents such a persistently foul pattern of deceit and denial that I often wanted
to throw it against a wall and scream.
Davis's hair-raising investigation - in what is easily the most important science
book of the year - will rob you of any lingering, Disney-like fantasies you might
have entertained about the nobility of cancer fundraising campaigns. And if you
have lost a relative or friend to a malignant tumour (odds are you have), Davis
will make you weep again, knowing that fraud and outright criminal neglect have
turned a 40-year-long medical war into a questionable $70-billion charade.
Davis can't hide her own disbelief at times: "Astonishing alliances between naive
or far too clever academics and folks with major economic interests in selling
potentially cancerous materials have kept us from figuring out whether or not
many modern products affect our chances of developing cancer." She then diligently
documents, for example, how some of the world's most prominent cancer researchers,
such as the late Sir Richard Doll, the epidemiologist who was instrumental in
linking smoking to health problems, secretly worked for chemical firms without
disclosing these ties when publishing studies.
a modern scientist committed to moral clarity, knows her stuff and then some.
After decades of front-line battles against air polluters, she now heads the world's
first Centre on Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer
Institute. She too has smelled and felt cancer firsthand, having lost two parents
and many friends, including the comic Andrea Martin*, to the disease. She shines,
in short, with a burning indignation about the abuse of power in medicine.
angry history of the way free and open discourse on cancers in the workplace has
become as elusive as meaningful political debates reveals the rot with the bluntness
of a chemo treatment. When men who bottled liquid lead as a gasoline additive
in the 1920s started to drop like flies, General Motors blamed the workers and
called lead a "natural contaminant." When dye-makers at DuPont got bladder cancer
from working with benzidine in the 1930s, the company, like an errant spouse,
first denied the findings. Then they refused to record cases. Finally, they suppressed
or delayed publishing the results.
inhaling tar and poisonous fumes from coke ovens, black steel workers succumbed
to waves of lung cancer in the 1950s. Yet industry argued that blacks were just
more vulnerable to lung-consuming tumours. It took an enterprising study of dying
Mormon coke-oven workers to challenge the lie. Damning studies on the health of
asbestos workers couldn't find a home in the 1930s, and to this day, Canada shamefully
remains an exporter of the lung destroyer.
a true-blue leukemia-maker that can cause workers to bleed out, has been the subject
of 100 years of deceit and denial. When Myron Mehlman, a toxicologist with Mobil
Oil, told Japanese officials in 1989 that gasoline with 5-per-cent benzene was
damned dangerous and shouldn't be sold, the company fired him. Davis reports that
ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and Shell have invested $27-million in China to "contradict
earlier claims that link exposure to low- and mid-levels of benzene to cancers
and other diseases."
1986, researcher William Fayerweather put together a computerized system for tracking
the health of every worker at DuPont's chemical plants. Davis found that "neither
he nor his system any longer work for DuPont." She reports that men and women
who produced computer chips for IBM are now dying young from cancers of the breast,
bone marrow and kidney.
China now leads a global economic boom, it's also exploring new opportunities
for cancer. Even its secretive, Ottawa-like government now concedes that the country's
industries use the nation's rivers as industrial urinals. Not surprisingly, China
now lists cancer as its number-one killer.
of Davis's findings simply stunned me. Consider the invasion of computerized imaging
technology (CT scans) in modern medicine. Since its invention in the 1970s, CT
scanning has become a $100-billion industry that creates nifty three-dimensional
images, yet exposes patients to radiation. CT scans have become such a favoured
technology that one in every three scans recommended for children is probably
the last 25 years, the amount of radiation zapping North Americans from scanning
and the like has increased fivefold. Now ponder this stunner: "Modern America's
annual exposure to radiation from diagnostic machines is equal to that released
by a nuclear accident that spewed the equivalent of hundreds of Hiroshimas across
much of Russia and Eastern Europe." Most physicians don't know that a typical
CT scan equals 400 chest X-rays. A group of researchers at Yale now estimate that
radiation from CT scans of the head and abdomen will kill 2,500 people a year.
also presents some disturbing data on aspartame, cellphones and Ritalin. Armed
with what a prominent toxicologist would later describe as "uninterpretable and
worthless" studies on aspartame, Donald Rumsfeld, then CEO of Searle & Co.
(since acquired by Monsanto), used his formidable political contacts to gain government
approval for the food additive in 1981. Yet the U.S. Air Force still reports that
aspartame "can cause serious brain problems in pilots." Despite whatever malarkey
you might have read, cellphone users still have double the risk of brain cancer
and folks under 18 years of age really shouldn't be using them. Ritalin, the drug
to slow kids down, can rearrange an individual's chromosomes, yet in some school
districts more than 10 per cent of the students are now on the drug. As Davis
notes, "Highly profitable industries have no incentive to ask whether the products
on which they depend may have adverse consequences."
and every chapter in this book offers a uncomfortable revelation. Pioneering research
on the deadly effects of tobacco and environmental hormones by the Nazis secretly
found its way to many of U.S. corporations producing the same questionable goods.
The American Cancer Society spends less than 10 per cent of its billion-dollar
budget on independent studies. The great Wilhelm Hueper, the bold pathologist
who wrote the book on "occupational tumours," suffered one indignity after another
for simply reporting the dangers of uranium mining. And on it goes.
the strange reality of cancer fighting truly reads like one of Kafka's nightmares.
Most of the 100,000 chemicals commonly used in commerce have not been tested.
Their proliferation in the workplace has created a cancer epidemic and a medical-business
industry to treat it. Given the toxic nature of many cancer treatments, including
radiation and chemotherapy, Davis claims that cancer researchers and cancer physicians
are dying in record numbers.
not only sheds light on this darkness, she also opens many hopeful doors. She
celebrates tough, rural, blue-collar mothers who have taken on the companies that
have riddled their children with cancer-makers. And she welcomes groups such as
Health Care Without Harm, a novel coalition focused on getting toxic products
out of hospitals.
her remarkable and disturbing history ultimately illuminates another hidden hydrocarbon
holocaust. Our frightful addiction to fossil fuels has not only fouled the atmosphere
but given us a wealth of chemicals, plastics and technologies that increasingly
undoes the health of millions with cancers. It, too, has given us rich armies
of PR men employing "the same expert public relations strategies that kept us
tied in knots on tobacco."
knows that changing medical perspectives and priorities, from treatment to prevention,
will be an enormous task. But she does not despair. In fact she ends her book
with a simple Talmudic story. Faced with a complicated assignment, a group of
workers rhyme off the usual excuses: They haven't got the tools or they haven't
got the energy. But a good rabbi (sounding much like Gandalf in The Lord of the
Rings) sets them straight: "It is not for you to complete the task," he says.
"But you must begin."
masterful book has shown us why we must begin rethinking cancer research and treatment
now for our children's sake.
book at amazon.com: The
Secret History of the War on Cancer
listen to an NPR interview with Dr. Devra Davis, click here: Devra
Davis: Chemicals, Cancer and You
Nikiforuk has written extensively about the cancerous legacy of uranium and
oil sands mining in northern Canada. He is the author of Pandemonium,
about how global trade and climate change threaten food security.
Correction by Andrew Nikiforuk: First the good news: Canadian comic Andrea Martin
is alive and well. Now the bad news: I mistakenly buried her in the course of
a book review (Malignancies - Books, Nov. 17). What I meant to say was that Andrea
Ravinett Martin, the brave founder and former director of the Breast Cancer Fund
and a woman with a good sense of humour, too, died of cancer.
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