[Marxism] Query: American Cancer Society politics

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Apr 26 07:17:01 MDT 2006

At 08:46 AM 4/26/2006, you wrote:
>The other day i was talking with two women who were organizing a
>walkathon for cancer under the auspices of the American Cancer Society
>(ACS). I began to wonder what the ACS was all about. A little google-ing
>shows they are a cash cow with some interesting people on their board of
>can anyone recommend sources of information on the operation of the ACS?
>les schaffer

Robert Proctor, "The Cancer Wars":

Why is the bulk of cancer research dedicated to the improvement of 
treatment, when the more sensible approach would be to encourage prevention?

Scholars who have examined the history of medicine in America point to the 
extraordinary success of the biomedical establishment in convincing 
Congress, the president, and the American people that science would win the 
war on cancer. From the outset, the war was geared toward finding a cure or 
at least a vaccine. The focus on treatment reflected the immediate needs of 
patients, since once a person has cancer it is usually not of much 
therapeutic use to know what caused it (lung cancer caused by asbestos 
inhalation is treated pretty much the same as lung cancer caused by 
smoking). The curative focus also reflected the unbridled optimism of the 
era: scientists had tamed the atom and banished polio; surely an all-out 
assault on cancer could solve that problem, too. Nixon's 1971 declaration 
of war on cancer reflected a similar optimism, this time modeled on the 
Apollo moon shot.64 The nation that had landed a man on the moon could 
surely conquer cancer. The oft-expressed hope that a cure was "just around 
the corner" occasionally led to recklessness, as when Benjamin F. Byrd, a 
former president of the American Cancer Society, defended the society's 
aggressive breast cancer-screening Program on the grounds that, though 
X-ray mammography might increase a woman's risk of cancer in the future, 
"there's also an excellent chance that by that time science will have 
learned to control the disease."65

Some like to argue that the root cause of the neglect of prevention is that 
can research, like cancer treatment, is big business with close ties to 
pharmaceutical a manufacturing interests. The alternative-therapy advocate 
Ralph Moss, in his 1980 The Cancer Syndrome (updated in 1991 as The Cancer 
Industry), showed that man cancer research institutions, like the American 
Cancer Society and the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, are not free 
of such ties. Sloan-Kettering's neglect of occupational carcinogens and the 
possibilities of prevention was overdetermined in Moss's view, by the fact 
that most of those sitting on its board of overseers were bankers and 
industrialists. Leo Wade had a long career as medical director at Standard 
Oil of New Jersey before coming to Sloan-Kettering first as vice president 
and eventually as director. Wade was a former member of the Manufacturing 
Chemists Association, the American Petroleum Institute, and the National 
Association of Manufacturers; it comes as no surprise, then, to hear Wade 
ridiculing efforts to control chemicals as "both futile and suspect."66 
Peter Chowka likewise notes that many of the carcinogens slighted by the 
ACS "are by-products of profitable industries in which its directors have 
financial interests."67

Samuel Epstein points to similar conflicts of interest on the National 
Cancer Advisory Panel, a three-member group with direct access to the 
president. As of 1990, Armand Hammer was chairman of both the Advisory 
Panel and the Occidental Petroleum Company, "a major polluting industry and 
manufacturer of carcinogenic chemicals." When Hammer announced a 
fund-raising drive to add $1 billion to the NCI budget, the goal was "to 
find a cure for cancer in the next ten years." None of the proposed funding 
was earmarked for prevention; nothing was to be spent to alleviate the 
cancer costs of Occidental's own carcinogenic activities.68

One needn't, of course, be a conspiracy theorist to recognize that the 
poverty of prevention­by contrast with the wealth of basic research­stems 
partly from the fact that effective prevention requires changes not just in 
research priorities but also in deeply ingrained personal habits and the 
logic of business enterprise. This latter aspect was made clear in the 
1970s, when a leading cancer researcher conceded that while the removal of 
carcinogens from the environment was the most effective way to conquer 
cancer, "it may require such a rearrangement of the environment that 
society cannot or will not allow this to be done except slowly over 
decades." Basic research, by contrast, was politically safe: "A knowledge 
of the steps in the carcinogenic process will almost certainly lead to ways 
to interrupt the process in the continuing presence of the carcinogen."69 
Such a logic would have us keep the carcinogens while searching for a 
cancer cure. No one's boat is rocked if our goal is to cure cancer once it 
has begun rather than to prevent it before it starts. Governments, for 
example, have been reluctant to curtail tobacco sales because the tax base 
generated is enormous: $14 billion every year in the United States alone. 
Cynics point out that cancer affects the elderly more than the young, 
relieving governments of the cost of Social Security. It's hard to bite the 
hand that's keeping you well fed.70

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