12 WAYS TO REDUCE CANCER -
By Devra Davis
(Basic Books; October 2007; Hardcover)
As early as 1936, the world’s leading cancer scientists
understood that tobacco,
diagnostic and solar radiation, benzene, and hormones caused
cancer. The preparation and conduct of World War II with its
focus on immediate survival effectively sidetracked these
early findings of cancer hazards.
Many more young people (those under 40 years of age) are
getting cancer. One of the reasons may be the excessive use
of x-rays in infants and children, and our failures to reduce
exposures to other cancer hazards like those in urban air
agents that can leach from some plastics. Earlier this year,
the American College of Radiology advised against unnecessary
and excessive use of CT and other and other forms if diagnostic
radiation in children, warning that this will further add
to the growing cancer burden in young people today.
Some of the first modern studies on workplace causes of cancer,
the dangers of medical and environmental radiation and hormones,
and the cancer-causing properties of tobacco and sunlight
were carried out and published by scientists of Nazi-Germany.
In June of 1945, Robert R. Kehoe, an Army captain who was
a member of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), traveled
throughout Germany gathering materials on this research for
the U.S. Army and the British Secret Service. The chief of
Section E from the Nazi war machine---the group responsible
for developing and testing poison gas warfare---was released
to Kehoe’s custody right after the war and never prosecuted.
Sixty years later, the files about these facts remain unpublished.
When first reports emerged that coke oven workers had higher
rates of lung cancer in the 1970’s, some suggested that
this was because most of them were black. Not until similar
findings showed up in white Mormon workers five years later,
was the link between coke oven work and lung cancer established.
While one in eight Americans today is black, one in three
works in a blue collar job, and one in five lives within two
miles of a hazardous waste site. This increased environmental
burden has never been considered when trying to understand
why rates of prostate, breast and colo-rectal cancer are so
much higher in blacks than whites.
Aspartame, cell phone use, and Ritalin are all so far ”presumed
innocent” in the War on Cancer because---say their defenders---there
isn’t enough evidence to prove that they cause the disease.
While some cancers(such as brain cancer) take 20 to 40 years
to develop, there are deeply disturbing signs of the poor
health in people who use these products and services. But
the biggest problem remains that no one is collecting data
on cancer cases in a way that will definitely reveal whether
there is a direct link.
The life-saving test for cervix cancer, called the Pap smear,
was not put into use for more than a decade after it was shown
to save lives, because of fears that it would undermine the
private practice of medicine. These delays led to the deaths
or unnecessary surgery of millions of women, who succumbed
to an illness that could have been avoided.
In 1954, the first director of the American Cancer Society,
Clarence Cook Little, one of America’s leading geneticists,
became the director of the Tobacco Industry Research Council.
In 1978, President Jimmy Carter fired his health secretary,
because Joe Califano dared target smoking and workplace cancer
causes. With bi-partisan support, more than 40 million U.S.
taxpayer dollars were spent trying to develop a safe cigarette
until 1979. In 1992, the chief lobbyist for Pennsylvania’s
American Cancer Society, resigned to work directly for the
tobacco industry after securing passage of an arcane air pollution
law that even today keeps that state the embarrassing ashtray
of the northeast.
Though compelling evidence of the connection between smoking
and cancer was
developed by the staff of the American Cancer Society (ACS)
in the early 1950’s, the
industry-backed board of the ACS forbid release of this work
for several years and only began serious efforts to curtail
smoking after the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report came
out in 1964. The American Medical Association continued working
with the tobacco industry for more than two decades.
In the first six years of the 21st century, America has tripled
the amount of some asbestos products it imports from Mexico,
taking two-thirds of the world supplies for asbestos sheet
cement. The EU has banned asbestos, along with Saudi Arabia,
Uruguay, Japan, Argentina, and Gabon. As of this writing,
America has not. Today half of all women and a third of all
men with mesothelioma—a rare tumor thought to be caused
solely by asbestos--- have never worked with the material.
Major chemical companies bought up and moved the small, mostly
contaminated Louisiana delta towns of Mossville and Reveilletown
without admitting any responsibility for their pollution,
pointing to the absence of information on alleged hazards
as proof that no such damage occurred. Both the land and the
residents’ bodies bear the scar of this, leaving children
born without faces and massive environmental poisoning in
small desolate rural areas. These same firms have also mounted
sophisticated public relations campaigns (masquerading as
cutting edge science) to case doubt about environmental hazards
by undermining reports in the dangers of vinyl chloride, asbestos
and other petrochemical residues for workers, their families
and communities---a technique borrowed from the tobacco industry
that remains vitally alive.
From 1929 until the late 1960’s, the founder of modern
industrial hygiene in America, Robert R. Kehoe, Medical Director
of Ethyl, and regular advisor to American Cyanamid and many
major chemical companies, including lead in gasoline, chemicals
used to fireproof pots and pans, cancerous residues in paraffin
wax as used in milk cartons, the manufacturer of rubber and
coke, and many other industrial hazards. Like most contact
research on worker health and safety---then as now---results
of this work remained hidden from the workers and the public.
Some distinguished academic leaders in the efforts against
cancer in the U.S., England, Sweden and France (including
Sir Richard Doll of Oxford University, Hans-Olav Adami of
the Karolinska Institute, and Dmitri Trichopoulos of Harvard
School of Public Health) secretly worked for the chemical
industry for years, and didn’t disclose these ties when
publishing research or providing government advice on subjects
of direct interest to their employers. It is reasonable to
ask whether the stringent criteria they established for proving
harm with human evidence---now the standard for public health
research---reflect the generous secret support they received
over the years to cast doubt on many major industrial hazards.
Novartis, ICI, and a number of highly profitable multi-national
firms have played it both ways, making billions from the production
of agents known to cause breast and other cancers and from
drugs that treat the disease.
The punishments meted out to war criminals after World War
II did not extend to
German rocket scientists or to senior officials of some U.S.
German shell chemical firms, Such as EthylGemeinschaft, (Ethyl
Corporation was owned by Standard Oil of New Jersey and General
Motors), which operated with some slave labor. Contrary to
the U.S. War Department orders, American companies gave firms
in Germany, Italy and Japan, the know-how to produce leaded
gasoline and synthetic rubber, without which they would have
been unable to go to war against America. Nazi scientists
devised cruel methods for studying the cancer-causing properties
of these and other compounds in their workers, many of whom
lived and died in concentration camps that were joint production
Learn more about Devra Davis, go to her website
University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute -
Order the Book " The Secret History of the War on Cancer