Health

Winning the Cancer War

THE POLITICS OF CANCER REVISTED
by Samuel S. Epstein,
East Ridge Press, USA, 1998, 770pp, ISBN 0 914896474

There has been an ongoing battle lasting for over a century around all aspects of cancer, from our fear of it, through the diagnosis of it, its treatment and aftercare. This battle between the cancer establishment and those with a dissident view has even, at its most ferocious, rarely made the headlines. Despite fierce opposition, the medically orthodox cancer industry has always remained in control of every aspect of cancer. It has shaped with incredible exactitude the public perception of the illness.

As a result, whenever a dissident cancer researcher, academic or therapist comes of age they are ruthlessly sidelined: denied access to data, left uninvited to conferences, their papers unpublished. Dissident doctors in Europe and America who discuss results of new treatments are visited or reviewed by self selected vigilante groups of cancer ,experts'. Dissident practitioners are professionally ridiculed. When patients choose alternative therapies, they are labelled resisters, patronised, pressurised or ignored and their personal choice of treatments written out of the cancer statistics.

If the above is true, you might be saying to yourself, why has it not been written about? It has. There are two classic books about the cailcer industry: Ralph W. Moss's The Cancer Industn, and

Samuel Epstein's The Politics of Cancer two books which, together with the people based organisations which their authors have helped set up in America, represent with great adequacy the history, the present and the future seeds of the growing movement against the cancer industry.

Samuel Epstein wrote The Politics of Cancer in 1979, and now, 20 years later, he has updated it with a second part in The Politics of Cancer Revisited. Epstein appears at first sight to be an unusual academic. Despite being Professor of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University of Illinois, he never shrinks from involvement with the campaigning fringe. Unlike many academics, he does not simply flirt with the grassroots but is deeply committed to building an altemative environmental movement in the area of cancer. He has been a key expert in the investigations and enquiries which led to the banning of such hazardous products as DDT, Aldrin and Chlordane, and he is currently Chairman of the nationwide American Cancer Prevention Coalition.

The original version of The Politics (?f Canc er presented a complete critique of the cancer industry. It first examined the impact of cancer in modem society, and then reviewed the evidence which has emerged from research about the causes. In three further chapters, it then examined chemical case studies from the workplace, consumer products and the general environment. Finally, it worked to construct a meta language for cancer dissidents: around the improvement of data on industrial carcinogens; government policies; non govemmental policies and finally a personal instruction as to how readers might work towards preventing cancer in themselves and carcinogens in their environment.

At the book's core was the idea that both our occupational and domestic environment were becoming increasingly affected by untested and unregulated carcinogenic chemicals. Some time in the future, it was postulated, cancers caused by chemicals and environmental carcinogens would outstrip the cancers caused by previously well publicised cancercausing agents such as cigarettes. Cancer, the book said, was mainly a public health threat, and could best be tackled by placing the emphasis on prevention, cutting back on the scientists' obsession with genetic and cell research, and linking research into carcinogens to efficient regulatory mechanisms.

The Politics of Cancer argued that because the cancer establishment had flunked the major social issues involved in the regulation of chemical carcinogens and environmental and occupational cancer prevention programmes, the entirety of its public message about cancer had become skewed. Orthodoxy clung and still clings to two principal causes of cancer: on the one hand, genetic disposition and on the other, lifestyle, involving personal choices over diet, exercise, sexual and recreational habits, with particular emphasis on smoking.

Epstein and other dissidents argue that while these ideas might represent the beginning of a preventative philosophy, they are just the tip of the iceberg. What is more, responsibility for diet, smoking and sexual activity can all easily be tumed back upon the cancer sufferer who, it can be suggested, is responsible for their own predicament. Why, Epstein argues, has the cancer industry and especially cancer research, adamantly refused to took at the unregulated production of carcinogens by industry, at work, in the home and in the general environment?

The original edition of The Politics of Cancer brimmed with the searching and critical ethos of the 1970s. It re iterated over and over again the idea that much cancer is not only personally, but socially and politically, preventable. It began to hand back power to people and to communities so that they could begin their own investigations.

The Politics of Cancer Revisited republishes the original book, adding to it in Part 11 what is tantamount to another book The Politics of Cancer 1998. The new work has a harder edge, and it identifies more clearly than did the first book what it is within the cancer industry that has tumed against the people.

There are new and extensive chapters on the personalities of the cancer establishment in America and Britain, and a ten page chapter on the American Cancer Society, the world's wealthiest 'nonprofit' institution. The track record of the National Cancer Institute, America's primary govemmental cancer agency, is dissected in detail, and there are appendices which look scathingly at the truth behind cancer research cure claims and their use of statistics.

Added to the profiles of all the usual industrial carcinogenic suspects are new sections on the threats of growth enhancing honnonal treatment of beef and dairy cattle, threats from the use of Hormone Replacement Therapy and carcinogenic components in an increasing number of foods and domestic products.

In the strategic conclusions, the book has 'what you can do yourself' sections on political action, lists of activist groups and resources and, perhaps most welcome of all, a section by Ralph W. Moss on clinical trials and altemative treatments. This latter section takes the reader on a sceptic's journey through conventionally perceived cancer, its finding, diagnosis and treatment; opening a door for any reader who might be interested in altemative treatments.

The new additions to The Politics of Cancer undoubtedly add political, strategic and informational value to the book, tuming it from what was previously only a book to what might now be described as a handbook. Professor Epstein has previously published the ultimate handbook on hazardous domestic products, The Safe Shoppers Bible, and this form is evidently one which he considers useful and one which is becoming increasingly prevalent in the US. I have some concems about this difficult forfn, mainly from an aesthetic rather than political perspective. The Politics of Cancer Revisited, which is 770 pages long in large format, could well defeat its purpose as a 'handbook', being too large and costly to be passed about by activists or lay people. At the same time, its large format and technical style neither invite good prose from its contributors nor encourage its readers.

Another concem with 'compendium'type books is with their structure. A book such as this, which has a number of diverse contributions, must contdin a lucid and embracing overview to make it work. This overview is present in Revisited because the original book is there but structurally the new book only jus; survives like many compendium handbooks, it teeters on the brink of disintegration.

These criticisms of the book's form might appear churlish when considering its epic and ground breaking content. However, most particularly in the field of cancer, the form of our message is of vital importance. If the laity are to play a larger part in the understanding, prevention, treatment and control of their own illnesses, the accessible presentation of material is almost as important as the material itself.

Martin J. Walker


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