The professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health writes in her book, “The Secret History of the War on Cancer,” that chemical companies skew debate away from the toxins that cause cancer, and toward cancer treatment options. She will speak about her book today at UC San Francisco’s National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health.
Why is the war on cancer misguided? When you’re dealing with cancer, as I was with my parents, the only thing you really care about is that people get treatment. There’s not a broad constituency for prevention, and there is a tremendous constituency for getting treated and trying to fight the disease. Many of the things that cause cancer are highly profitable. It’s not widely known that the first director of the American Cancer Society resigned to work for the tobacco industry in 1954. Obviously, it’s very difficult to make changes when the changes involve materials that are profitable, like tobacco, gasoline or asbestos, or even diagnostic radiation.
Is there hope that the war on cancer can be changed? I’ve become convinced that the times have changed. When I tried to publish this book 20 years ago, my boss advised me not to do it, and he was a smart man, because 20 years ago, in the midst of the Reagan revolution, nobody would have taken me seriously if I’d spoken about these things.
What can people do to better fight cancer? The first thing they can do is vote, because whatever we did to get into this situation, we’re going to have to get ourselves out through the tools of democracy. They can also look under their sinks.
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