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The American Cancer Society:
Profit or Prevention?


A staggering 1.37 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in calendar 2005. That statistic was taken straight from the American Cancer Society's own reports. Given the crushing impact of cancer on public health, coupled with the ineffectiveness of measures like chemotherapy and radiation, you'd think that agencies like the American Cancer Society (ACS) would clamor for the chance to investigate new methods for preventing and combating the disease. Unfortunately, you might be wrong.

Why does the ACS reportedly put far greater financial emphasis on chemotherapy and radiation research than on life-saving prevention techniques? What are the American Cancer Society's strategies for fighting cancer?

Innocent Casualties
author Elaine Feuer comments that the ACS is more intent on developing cancer treatments than preventing the disease. Feuer argues, "Instead of allotting money towards the prevention of cancer, the medical establishment prescribes chemotherapy and radiation (which can be very expensive and even toxic)."

Also contentious is the agency's emphasis on screening. Samuel S. Epstein, author of The Politics of Cancer, argues that the society's "priorities remain fixated on damage control -- screening, diagnosis, and treatment." Sure enough, the ACS' 2005 Cancer Prevention and Early Detection Facts and Figures report focuses primarily on screening. While screenings are valuable in helping people fight cancer, they do not prevent the disease. If decreasing the number of cancer fatalities is the first priority, why not prevent the disease before it starts?

Many critics of the American Cancer Society are quick to suggest its "vested interest" in the cancer industry, especially in chemotherapy and pharmaceutical treatments. Dr. Samuel Epstein, former head of a Congressional committee on cancer, has accused the ACS of foul play for years. Epstein claims that the ACS' "longstanding conflicts of interest with a wide range of industries, coupled with a systematic discrediting of evidence of avoidable causes of cancer" preclude many powerful life-saving initiatives.

In a debate this year, Dr. Michael Thun of the American Cancer Society did not deny the agency's connection to corporate interests. "The American Cancer Society views relationships with corporations as a source of revenue for cancer prevention," said Dr. Thun. "That can be construed as an inherent conflict of interest, or it can be construed as a pragmatic way to get funding to support cancer control."

So it is in fact true that the ACS' 22-member board was created in 1990 to solicit corporate contributions. It's also true that board members include Gordon Binder, who is the CEO of Amgen, a biotechnology company that sells chemotherapy products. Another board member, David R. Bethune, is president of Lederle Laboratories, a multinational pharmaceutical company and a division of American Cyanamid Company. In fact, many board members seemingly stand to make more money by treating cancer than preventing it. But as Thun said, these relationships are "pragmatic" ways to garner funding. Money, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, is the name of the ACS' game. The Chronicle of Philanthropy is a watchdog organization that monitors major charities. After analyzing the ACS' budgets and programs, they concluded the agency is "more interested in accumulating wealth than saving lives."

Epstein argues that the ACS's financial ties with industry also skew its policies pertaining to environmental causes of cancer. In his new book, Cancer-Gate: How to Win the Losing War Against Cancer, Epstein claims the agency is willfully suppressing information about the environmental causes of cancer. Carcinogens can be found in pesticides, industrial pollution, materials used in plastic or reconstructive surgery, the water supply and many other everyday materials.

Corporations – some of which contribute to the American Cancer Society – profit handsomely while they pollute the air, water, and food with a wide range of carcinogens, endangering the lives of millions of people. Why is the ACS silent? Epstein says they are more interested in inflating their budget than waging war against industrial pollution.

The Corporation film, which is strongly recommended, elaborates on commentary regarding the cancer industry.


Reference Source 136
August 8, 2005


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