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
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
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
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