The cancer industry is big business — and we’re running it for them
You don’t make friends by criticizing fundraisers with names like Run for Mom, or those that have anthems written and sung for them by beloved Canadian rock-star lesbian breast-cancer survivors.
Any nagging feeling that we’re being duped by the cancer industry is the kind of opinion you just keep to yourself.
At least until something or someone bigger than you provides an opening.
For trying to clear the road, I should thank the renegade scientists who have been criticizing the “cancer industry” for decades.
But for clearing it for the Canadian mainstream, the credit goes to CBC Television’s Wendy Mesley, who took on the cancer industry on Marketplace in March, 2006, and CBC Radio’s The Current, which did it again last week.
After her own battle with cancer, Mesley wondered why no cancer money was spent on prevention. It was all spent on drug research.
The answer turned out to be simple: Eradicating cancer isn’t profitable.
“Because there are no companies that are devoted to cancer prevention as there are to cancer treatment,” Dr. James Holland, an oncologist and chemotherapy researcher, told Mesley.
Holland added frankly that he and his colleagues are in the business of “managing” cancer — inventing drugs to keep cancer sufferers alive longer — not eliminating it.
Last week, on Weedless Wednesday, Anna Maria Tremonti, host of The Current, asked how the Canadian Cancer Society could allow the drug company Pfizer to significantly influence its new quit-smoking manual.
Pfizer products such as nicotine gums and nicotine patches are ‘advertised’ as the smoking cessation aides in the booklet, which Pfizer helped create by ‘donating’ 30 per cent of its production costs.
The only other smoking cessation option mentioned is ‘cold turkey,’ which gets significantly less play even though research shows 90 per cent of people who quit successfully use that method.
Tremonti interviewed Dr. Alan Cassels, drug policy researcher at University of Victoria and co-author of Selling Sickness: How the World’s Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies are Turning Us All Into Patients.
Cassels agreed that the Canadian Cancer Society’s use of Pfizer’s money to run its organization, and specifically to market its goals — to fight cancer — is affecting the message CCS is putting out.
“When you’ve got information that is provided by a drug company, they essentially change the paradigm, so people start thinking of the condition as something that has to be treated by a product,” he said.
In other words, the popular message regarding smoking and other environmental agents that cause cancer is that they are beyond our control: Don’t even think of trying to ban cigarettes, or environmental pollutants for that matter. Instead, think about what you can buy to make your last few years less uncomfortable.
The Cancer Prevention Coalition says, “preventing cancer is bad for business.”
So bad, in fact, that pharmaceutical and mammography companies are bribing US policymakers to direct research funds away from prevention and towards diagnosis and treatment, it says.
Dr. Samuel Epstein, chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, has been a leading critic of the cancer establishment since the 1970s, publishing such papers as The Politics of Cancer in 1978 and, in 2005, Cancer-Gate: How to Win the Losing Cancer War.
Epstein calls cancer an epidemic. And he points the finger in the United States at the National Cancer Institute and American Cancer Society for their “fixation on damage control — screening, diagnosis and treatment, and genetic research — with indifference for cancer prevention, which for the ACS extends to hostility.
This mindset is compounded by conflicts of interest with the cancer drug industry…”.
I was living in Ottawa in 1999 when the capitol city hosted the second World Conference on Breast Cancer. At the time, my favourite aunt happened to live in Ottawa and she had breast cancer.
Her older sister had had it 10 years earlier and seemed to have recovered. But it killed their eldest sister (my mother) 30 years earlier, and their mother 20 years before that.
The two youngest of the five sisters had never been diagnosed with breast cancer thus far, but a few of the granddaughters, including me, were now young women.
So it was with particular interest that summer that I read any news about the conference.
I remember how the mainstream media marginalized the few scientists who argued environmental links to breast cancer, calling them ‘radicals,’ but reported more soberly about evidence of genetic links.
The female activists, mostly breast cancer survivors, were characterized as hysterical housewives. (Neither of my aunts was among them. Heartbreakingly, my favourite aunt would die within the year and her older sister the year after, after being diagnosed with breast cancer a second time.)
Turning environmental activists into heretics by the media is nothing new. Ever since industry spawned pollution, there has been a need to shut down anyone who complains about pollution — even if it kills.
As awareness grows and the consumer grows more empowered, small changes are occurring in a few countries.
In Canada and Europe, American milk is banned because of the use in dairy cows of Monsanto’s genetically-engineered bovine growth hormone (rBGH) to increase milk production.
The hormone has been linked to human cancers, including breast, colon and prostate.
American beef is banned in Europe because US beef cattle are fattened with synthetic sex hormones that have been linked to cancers.
But the mainstream media, especially in the US, is still largely on the side of industry and continues to contribute to its misinformation campaigns about the links between various kinds of cancer and their products.
The biggest public misconception may be that all of these years of running, walking and sitting on our hands for a cure have paid off — but nothing could be further from the truth.
The National Cancer Institute’s latest available data in its Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2003, shows a drop only in lung cancer, but major rises since 1974 in a wide range of non-smoking related cancers, including Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, by 74 per cent; acute childhood leukemia, by 68 per cent; childhood brain cancer, by 52 per cent; acute adult leukemia, by 56 per cent; and testes cancer, by 51 per cent.
Dr. Epstein notes: “Overall mortality rates have remained virtually unchanged, despite $50 billion NCI funding, predominantly allocated to diagnosis, treatment and treatment related research, with only minimal funding for research on cancer prevention.”
Juliann Fraser is a writer living in Whitehorse.