October 8th, 2007


Salon looks at cancer prevention for a change.

I have objections to some of the statements in this article but the main point I wholeheartedly agree with: we should put more of our efforts and money into looking at how to prevent cancer. It's obvious by the alarming increases in certain types of cancer that something is going on here, and that something is probably related to our environment: air, water, food. I have deliberately refused to support a number of charities because their focus is entirely on research and not on prevention. They are avoiding that damned elephant in the living room.

My objections to statements in this article:

1. The title. It makes light of a subject that needs to be taken more seriously. It even suggests that the author is off her rocker. If you read the article you won't get that impression but many will just scan the headline.
2. The book author's emphasis on animal research. Animal research gives us the wrong information a lot of the time. Animals don't deliberately expose themselves to environmental hazards the way people do - if given a choice they are likely to choose what is more healthful for them. Their systems also do not work precisely the way ours do so you cannot blithely assume a connection between the way an animal reacts to a substance and the way a person would. In any case, we already know the effects of many substances and can use alternative testing techniques to find out about others.


Life will kill you

Can diet soda, cellphones and makeup give you cancer? The author of "The Secret History of the War on Cancer" discusses the health risks of, well, living.

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Oct. 08, 2007 | Children shouldn't use cellphones. No one should drink diet sodas sweetened with aspartame. And think twice before getting X-rayed with a CAT scan except in a bona fide life-threatening emergency. That's just some of the precautionary advice that epidemiologist Devra Davis, who runs the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, delivers in her new book, "The Secret History of the War on Cancer."

Davis, who is a professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and formerly served in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, argues that the United States' $40 billion "war on cancer" has focused far too much on treatment, and not nearly enough on prevention. There's a lot of blame to go around here, and Davis serves it to up to the scientific community, the government, polluting industries and even cancer advocacy groups. For instance, in the late '60s, three years after the surgeon general declared that smoking causes cancer, the United States spent $30 million of taxpayer money to create a safer cigarette, essentially doing the tobacco companies' research and development for them. Needless to say, this effort failed, but it succeeded in giving the tobacco companies cover, assuring smokers that a safer cigarette was just around the corner.

Davis argues that again and again, from tobacco to benzene to asbestos, the profit motive has trumped concerns about public health, delaying, sometimes for decades, the containment of avoidable hazards. And, as in the current scientific "debate" about global warming, the legitimate need for ongoing scientific research about many possible carcinogens has been exploited by industry to promote the idea that there's really no need to worry.

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