Cancer Wars: How Politics Shapes What We Know and Don't Know about Cancer

Overview

Cancer Wars explains why we still don't have straight answers to questions such as these: Why do rates from some cancers appear to have risen and others fallen? What are the relative risks of polluted water, radon in homes, and the natural toxins in peanut butter? Is it dangerous to use a cellular phone or to live near high-voltage wires? Are there "thresholds" of exposure to radiation or chemical toxins? If cigarettes cause up to 30 percent of all cancer, why has so little been done to discourage their ...
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Overview

Cancer Wars explains why we still don't have straight answers to questions such as these: Why do rates from some cancers appear to have risen and others fallen? What are the relative risks of polluted water, radon in homes, and the natural toxins in peanut butter? Is it dangerous to use a cellular phone or to live near high-voltage wires? Are there "thresholds" of exposure to radiation or chemical toxins? If cigarettes cause up to 30 percent of all cancer, why has so little been done to discourage their production? And why does the National Cancer Institute spend only 3 percent of its budget on antitobacco efforts? After an overview of the history of attempts to understand cancer, the book introduces two of the foremost twentieth-century advocates of the environmental view of cancer: the little-known Wilhelm Hueper and his famous disciple, Rachel Carson. Proctor then moves to the 1970s, when claims that a large percentage of cancers could be caused by exposure to industrial pollutants gained currency, and then to the backlash during the Reagan era, when environmental and occupational health factors were downplayed. Proctor discusses the lobbying efforts of industrial research bodies and trade associations representing tobacco, asbestos, meat, coffee, and other special interest groups. He considers the debate over Bruce Ames's argument that "natural carcinogens" in foods pose a far greater threat than industrial pollutants or pesticides, and chronicles the political history of dose-response curves: Can a single molecule of a carcinogen cause cancer? A fascinating chapter on the history of radiation and cancer draws on censored information about uranium-mine concentration camps in Czechoslovakia. The author also discusses genetic factors and differential susceptibility to cancer. Finally, Proctor suggests how we might actually win the war on cancer.

Discusses genetic factors & differential susceptibility/the history of radiation & cancer/efforts of trade associations.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Proctor estimates that former Presidents Reagan and Bush, by dismantling and defunding occupational, environmental and consumer product safety agencies, may have caused 600,000 additional cancer deaths in the nation over 12 years. Professor of the history of science at Pennsylvania State University, he mounts a devastating critique of trade associations of the tobacco, meat, chlorine and asbestos industries, which, in his view, co-opt scientific research to create and exploit uncertainty over the carcinogenic risks of their products. Next he disputes the notion, popularized by Berkeley biochemist Bruce Ames, that natural carcinogens in foods pose a far greater health hazard than industrial pollutants or pesticides. Noting that the National Cancer Institute spends less than 3% of its budget on anti-smoking efforts, even though 30% of cancer deaths result from cigarettes, this forceful, scholarly study urges greater efforts to encourage cancer prevention, including a halt to tobacco subsidies, stiffer supervision of pesticides and federal support for alternatives to petrochemical agriculture. First serial to Sciences. Mar.
Library Journal
Science historian Proctor discusses not only the war fought against cancer but especially the several wars fought over cancer. He notes several prominent, disturbing facts: despite 20 or more years of heavily funded and widely proclaimed cancer research, cancer has become the second-most frequent cause of death in the United States and other developed nations; the five-year survival rates for most cancers have not changed since 1972; and, alas, the incidence of some cancers has increased. Despite widespread recognition that the principal causal agents of cancer are environmental, conflicts over the causes and prevention of cancer persist among scientists, between industrial corporations and regulatory agencies, and between environmentalists and manufacturers. The origin, persistence, and effects of these conflicts form the central questions examined here. Proctor holds that cancer research is often subtly and sometimes overtly affected by politics. Why, he asks, has the so-called cancer establishment devoted far more time and money to investigating the mechanisms of cancer than to its prevention? This fascinating but well-documented book should be profitably read by all informed readers.-James D. Haug, East Carolina Univ. Lib., Greenville, N.C.
Booknews
A scholarly history of the social biases, economic interests, and political stakes that have long influenced debates over the causes, prevention, and treatment of cancer. Proctor asserts that the causes of cancer are largely known and exposes some startling statistics and disturbing conspiracies concerning its ever-rising rate, observing that the curing of cancer is a political problem as much as it is a scientific one. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
William Beatty
In an enlightening, informative, and well-documented book, Proctor shows how and why the war against cancer has failed. Funding sources, he avers, have put too much emphasis on research (i.e., the scientific details of disease mechanisms and of treatment) rather than on the practical (i.e., methods of prevention and the exploration of broad causes). He examines the growth of genetics that has changed the focus of cancer studies from "cancer families" to biotechnology, and he does especially well in distinguishing between the statistical and the public health significances of cancer rates. He outlines the political wars at all levels of the cancer-fighting enterprise and points out that laws and regulations can be disastrous by both obscuring information necessary for the public to know and thwarting attempts to pursue previously untrodden research paths. Finally, his coverage of the politics, hypocrisy, and obfuscation of the tobacco industry is excellent.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465027569
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 2/28/1995
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 356

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: What Do We Know?
Radical Facts
Seas of Controversy
General Principles
Plan of the Book
1
1 A Disease of Civilization?
The Question of Trends
The Question of Causes
16
2 The Environmentalist Thesis
Wilhelm C. Hueper: A Hero Hounded
Rachel Carson: Protecting the Web of Life
35
3 The Percentages Game
Samuel S. Epstein and the Politics of Cancer
Joseph Califano's 20 to 40 Percent
The Mystification of Numbers
54
4 The Reagan Effect
Environmental Health Dismantled
Costs and Benefits
Ideological Effluent
Body Count
75
5 "Doubt Is Our Product": Trade Association Science
Science as Public Relations
Smokescreen: The Tobacco Industry
Asbestos Misinformation
Petrochemical Persuasion
Rhetorical Strategies of Avoidance
101
6 Natural Carcinogens and the Myth of Toxic Hazards
The Argument: Nature Is Not Benign
The Critics
The Policy Implications
133
7 The Political Morphology of Dose-Response Curves
Early Concepts of Chemical Thresholds
The Question of Repair
Dose and Response
The Problem with Animal Studies
Body Victimology, Body Machismo, and Regulatory Prudence
153
8 Nuclear Nemesis
Edison's Assistant
The Radium-Dial Painters
The Shadow of the Bomb
Uranium Mines
Uranium-Mine Concentration Camps
174
9 Radon's Deadly Daughters
The Tailings Problem
The Household Hazard
The Watras Family
Public Apathy and Regulatory Impotence
The Problem of Synergy
Radon Redux
197
10 Genetic Hopes
Early Racial and Familial Theories
Multistage Models and the Mutation Theory
Genetic Susceptibility: Rare Syndromes
Genetic Susceptibility: More Common Cancers
Nature versus Nurture and the Ideology of Invulnerability
217
Conclusion: How Can We Win the War?
Are We Winning the War?
Competing Concepts of Cause
Two Kinds of Conservatism
The Poverty of Prevention
The Myth of Ignorance
249
Notes
Bibliography
Index
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