It's a Growth Industry
An interview with Dr. Samuel Epstein
By David Ross
Samuel Epstein is emeritus professor of environmental medicine at
the University of Illinois School of Public Health, and chair of
the Cancer Prevention Coalition. He has published some 260 peer
reviewed articles, and authored or co-authored 10 books including
the prize-winning The
Politics of Cancer, The Safe Shoppers Bible, The Breast
Cancer Prevention Program, and The Politics of Cancer, Revisited.
Epstein has worked internationally and domestically providing testimony,
consulting, and drafting legislation. For decades he has doggedly
exposed the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society
for losing the winnable war on cancer.
ROSS: What is the impact of cancer on society and
what are the stated causes of cancer?
EPSTEIN: Over recent decades, the incidence of cancer has escalated
to epidemic proportions, now striking nearly one in every two men,
and over one in every three women in their lifetimes. Even more
disturbing is the recent recognition that this very high incidence
of cancer is going to increase further still and, by the year 2050,
it will be doubling the current very high incidence rate.
you look at a cancer called non-Hodgkins lymphoma (the cancer
from which Jackie Kennedy died), over the last few decades, the
incidence has gone up by nearly 100 percent. When you look at brain
cancer, the incidence has gone up about 80 or 90 percent. When you
look at breast cancer, its gone up about 60 or 65 percent.
When you look at testicular cancer, particularly in men between
the ages of 28-35, its gone up, believe it or not, nearly
300 percent. When you look at childhood cancers, depending on the
particular cancer, the incidence has gone up as high as 40-50 percent.
These are all non-smoking cancers.
public is under the general impression that the real increase in
cancer rates is due to smoking. Theres no question that smoking
is the single most important cause of all cancer, however, when
you look at the data, lung cancer and other smoking-related cancers
account for between one-third and one-quarter of the increased incidence
of all cancers. Incidentally, the incidence of lung cancer in men
is being sharply reduced because men are giving up smoking, while
in women it is increasing.
it because people are living longer that theyre getting more
cancers? The answer to that is no, because when we talk about cancer
incidence rates, we adjust them to reflect the increasing longevity
of the population.
genetics be the possible reason for this major increase in cancer?
Not at all. Theres no chance whatsoever that the genetics
of human populations has changed in the last 40-50 years. It takes
tens of thousands of years for genetic effects in the general population
to change. So one can exclude genetics and sharply limit the role
about fatty diet? Theres really little evidence that fat is
a risk factor for cancer. For instance, if you look at Mediterranean
countries, they have extremely high fat consumption, particularly
olive oil, which can be as high as 40 percent of the diet. But the
rates of cancers, particularly reproductive cancers, are low. However,
you find strong relationships between the consumption of animal
and dairy fats and some cancers. But thats a reflection of
the fact that these are highly contaminated with a wide range of
industrial, chemical, and petrochemical carcinogens.
There has been
a massive escalation in the incidence of cancer that cannot be explained
away on the basis of smoking, longevity, genetics, or a fatty diet.
the reason were seeing this enormous increase because there
isnt money to pay for the research necessary to investigate
all the causes of cancer and to give the public, Congress, and the
regulating industries this information? Not on your life. In fact,
if you look at the finances of the National Cancer Institute (NCI)
and the American Cancer Society (ACS), you find the following: when
President Nixon declared the war against cancer in 1971, the annual
budget of the NCI was about $180 million. Now, the budget is $4.6
billion dollars a year. Thats a 30-fold increase. Similarly,
the budget of the ACS has been escalating and its now near
$800 million a year while they have about $1 billion dollars of
assets in cash and other reserves. NCI and ACS compose what we call
the cancer establishment. NCI is a governmental or federal
institution, which taxpayers pay for, and ACS is the worlds
largest non-profit, a so-called charity.
are the rationales of NCI and ACS on the causes and prevention of
of all, they try to explain away cancer by whats called, blame
the victim. If you get cancer, its your fault. You smoke
too much. Its a fatty diet. Or they claim its
because people are spending too much time in the sun. Theres
no question that malignant melanoma and skin cancer will result
from spending too much time in the sun, but that has nothing to
do with any of the other major cancers that I mentionedbrain
cancer, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, breast, testicular, and childhood
cancers. They parallel this emphasis on blame the victim by ignoring,
to all intents and purposes, a vast body of scientific information
on avoidable causes or risk factors of cancer.
then, are their policies? First of all, they confuse the public
by using the words secondary prevention. By that they
mean screening, diagnosis, and the use of chemicals, vitamins, etc.
to help reduce cancer risks due to past exposures to carcinogens.
So when they talk about how much money they spend on prevention,
not only is there gross exaggeration, but they also, by using the
word secondary prevention, mislead the public. The cancer establishment
is fixated on what I call, damage controlthe screening,
diagnosis, and treatment of cancer, as opposed to prevention.
example, occupation is a major cause of cancer in men and, to a
lesser extent, breast cancer in women. In children, too, because
children whose parents work in plants during the pregnancy of the
wife, have major excesses of childhood cancer. Their parents also
carry occupational carcinogens into the home and they are exposed
to carcinogens themselves, which are absorbed into their bloodstream.
the NCIs $4.5 billion dollar yearly budget, the amount of
money the NCI spends on in-house research on occupational cancer
is $15 million dollars, which is less than one percent. Of the ACSs
budget on cancer prevention, the money spent on occupational, environmental,
and other preventable causes of cancer is less than 0.1 percent.
of us have charged the cancer establishment with major responsibility
for losing the winnable war against cancer. The Chronicle of
Philanthropy, the leading American charity watchdog stated,
The American Cancer Society is more interested in accumulating
wealth than saving lives.
are the conflicts of interest between NCI, the American Cancer Society,
conflicts of interest extend particularly to the mammography industrythe
machine and film industry. We have excellent data showing that pre-menopausal
mammography is not only ineffective, but is also dangerous for a
variety of reasons, including the high doses of radiation. Two films
of a breast in a pre-menopausal woman gives that woman about 500
times the dose of a chest X-ray. If a pre-menopausal woman gets
a mammography every year over a ten-year period, the dosages of
radiation can well amount to about ten radsa rad is a radiation
absorbed dose, a measure of radiation exposure. Radiation
from routine pre-menopausal mammography reaches reasonably close
to the kind of dosage that women got in Hiroshima and Nagasaki outside
of the major epicenter where the atom bomb was exploded. Nevertheless,
a radiologist will tell women, when asked if theres any problem
with the radiation, Well my dear, and theyll call
them by their first name, not at all. Its just the same
as spending a few days in Denver or taking a transatlantic flight.
This is deception and manipulation.
conflicts of interest are not only with the mammography industry.
The relationships between NCI, ACS, and the cancer drug industry
are a matter of record. In fact, the previous director of the National
Cancer Institute said we must recognize that the NCI has become
a governmental pharmaceutical industry.
taxpayers we pay for a great deal of research on drugs for cancer
treatment. What happens when the research and development is done?
When a drug starts looking hopeful, that drug and all its backup
research is then passed on to industry that charges massively high
prices to consumers. For instance, citizens paid for the research
and development of Taxol and then its passed over to Bristol
Meyers Squibb who can charge up to 30-50 times more for the same
drug. So the taxpayer pays twice.
we cant explain this major epidemic of cancer on the basis
of smoking, increased longevity, genetics, or a fatty diet, what
are the reasons for it?
fall into three general categories. The first relates to consumer
products. By consumer products, I mean things you can buy in a store
which include food, cosmetics and toiletries, and household products.
In all of these areas, the consumer, once given the information
on which of these pose cancer risks, could boycott them and shop
for safer products.
and dairy products are highly contaminated with a wide range of
pesticides and other industrial, chemical carcinogens. Take meat
for instance. Apart from the pesticides and industrial carcinogens,
you have the sex hormones. Cattle in feedlots, 100 days to slaughter,
are implanted with sex hormones, from which high residues are left
in the meat that you eat. These are very important risk factors
for reproductive cancerstesticular cancers in men, breast
cancers in women and leukemia in children.
love hot dogs. Hot dogs are dyed pink and red with nitrite and the
nitrite reacts with certain amineschemicals naturally present
in foodto produce highly potent carcinogens known as nitrosamines.
We have the chemical data showing that nitrosamines are found in
nitrite-dyed hot dogs. We also have whats called epidemiological
studies showing that children who eat nitrite in their dyed hot
dogswhich are the standard hot doghave up to about a
three- to four-fold increased incidence of brain cancer and about
a six- to seven-fold increased incidence of leukemia.
from that, most of the milk in this country is contaminated. It
comes from cows that have been injected with a genetically engineered
growth hormone to increase their production of milk and this hormone
increases levels of a natural growth factor, known as IGF1. The
milk becomes supercharged by this growth factor, which in high levels
has been clearly associated with breast, prostate, and colon cancer.
from food, cosmetics and toiletries are a witches brew of
undisclosed carcinogens. When you look at the label on the back
of a bottle of shampoo, you see about 20 chemicals listed. This
means nothing to anybody because theres no indication as to
which of these chemicals are carcinogens.
chemicals fall into three categories. There are ingredients that
are carcinogenic themselves like talcum powder. For example, women,
particularly pre-menopausal women that dust their genital areas
with talcum powder after showering and bathing, have up to a three-
to four-fold increased incidence in ovarian cancer. There are also
other ingredients that themselves are not carcinogenic, but which
break down to release carcinogens like formaldehyde. Lastly, you
have ingredients, which interact with each other to form carcinogens.
Are woman informed? Not at all.
other area of consumer products, besides foods, cosmetics, and toiletries,
is household products. For instance, theres a deodorizer a
lot of people use in their toilets, bathrooms, and elsewhere called
Para. Para is composed of dichlorobenzene, which is a highly volatile,
highly potent carcinogen. But theres no warning whatsoever
in the home, lawn, or garden are very risky indeed. If you use pesticides
in and around the home, your dog will have a five-fold increased
risk of getting a not uncommon cancer in dogs called canine lymphoma.
More importantly, there are major excesses of childhood cancers
where pesticides are used in and around the home, lawn, or garden,
and where pet collars containing carcinogenic chemicals are used.
these are the three areas of consumer products for which the consumer,
given a choice, could reduce his or her risk, but they are denied
this information by the cancer establishmenta fundamental
violation of the democratic right to know. So thats the first
category in which the public could easily reduce their risk of cancer.
second is medical drugs given to you by your doctor. There is the
requirement for informed consent. When your doctor gives you a drug,
you are entitled to be given the basic information as to the dangers
of these drugs. But in general, youre not. The drug companies
do not provide doctors this information or the information is trivialized.
Theyre not provided this information by the cancer establishment.
for instance, is a drug widely used for Attention Deficit Disorder
(ADD) in children. We use about 10 times more per capita in the
U.S. than any other country in the world. If a child misbehaves
in school, the parent is told that the child has ADD and the doctor
prescribes Ritalin, which is a highly dangerous carcinogenic drug,
which also has been shown to induce very aggressive liver cancers
youve got Evista or Raloxifene, which is the trade name. It
is widely prescribed by Ely Lily for osteoporosismillions
of women the world over get it. Theres clear-cut data, which
Ely Lily has admitted in its own internal confidential information,
that Evista induces ovarian cancer.
estrogen-based drugs are used for estrogen replacement therapy,
particularly the estrogen drug alone without the testosterone, you
get risks of uterine cancer in 1 in every 100 women after 10 years.
This is a very high risk. Its much greater than the 1 in 250
annual incidence of lung cancer in heavy smokers.
move on to the third categorydomestic, chemical terrorism.
The petrochemicals and other industries have contaminated our environmentair,
water, workplaces, and foodstuffswith a wide range of petrochemical
and other carcinogens. They have done this knowing full well that
these chemicals are carcinogenic. This relates not only to the petrochemical
industries, but also to the mining and other industries, particularly
in medical radiation. Why are we being subjected to these risks?
It is for the profit of corporations that could relatively easily,
by whats called toxic use reduction, phase out
the use of chemical carcinogens and substitute them with much safer
really havent dealt sufficiently with labor, but occupational
exposures to carcinogens are the single most important cause of
cancer in the country not only for men, but also for women. We know
that probably one million women are exposed in the workplace to
chemicals that induce breast cancer, that also, as I mentioned earlier,
lead to cancers in children.
can toxic use reduction be implemented?
1989, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts passed a Toxic Use Reduction
Act, in which a group of responsible industries got together with
citizen groups, environmental groups, and the University of Massachusetts.
They worked together to show that its possible to make products
safely and to phase out the use of carcinogenic chemicals and replace
them with safe chemicals. Over the last decade or so, theres
been a phenomenal reduction in the use of carcinogenic chemicals
and hazardous waste in Massachusetts.
February 2003, the Cancer Prevention Coalition created a report
known as Stop Cancer Before It Starts campaign. Its basically
a formula for winning the losing war against cancer (www.preventcancer.com).
Nearly 100 independent experts in cancer and cancer prevention have
endorsed this campaign. Environmental, consumer, public interest,
and labor groups have also endorsed it.
Stop Cancer Before It Starts campaign has been sponsored by socially
responsible businesses, which are phasing out or have phased out
carcinogens from their products.
Ross hosts a talk show on KMUD radio in Redway, California.