|Wednesday July 28, 1999|
Cancer establishments in North America and Europe are involved in a conspiracy that puts women at risk, says a U.S. expert on the environmental and occupational causes of cancer.
Speaking at the World Conference on Breast Cancer in Ottawa yesterday, Dr. Samuel Epstein, a researcher at the University of Illinois medical centre in Chicago, said he has been investigating the American Cancer Society for three decades.
"I have very detailed documentation on their indifference, if not hostility, to cancer prevention," said Dr. Epstein, the author of eight books on health-related issues and the recipient of the 1998 Alternative Nobel Prize, which honours practical answers to problems facing society.
Breast cancer rates increased by 26 per cent since 1980, and continue to rise. Today it is the most common form of cancer among women.
In his book The Politics of Cancer Revisited, Dr. Epstein cites 15 instances when the American Cancer Society blocked information or tried to prevent the distribution of information on a range of avoidable causes of cancer.
The book claims that every woman, armed with the right knowledge, could help reduce the chances of being diagnosed with cancer.
He said the industry has become driven by money and is too focused on diagnosis and treatment. For example, pre-menopausal mammography is a massive scam, exposing the breast to high levels of radiation and flattening it, potentially rupturing existing tumours.
In social circles, Dr. Epstein said yesterday he hears radiologists talking about losing their "pre-menopausal market."
Dr. Epstein said that concentrating on genetic factors is pointless when much of the increase in the number of caner cases is attributable to environmental factors.
For example, there has been a huge increase in breast cancer linked to estrogen levels.
The American Cancer Society, and to a lesser extent the Canadian Cancer Society, have a vested interest in focusing on treatment -- not prevention -- because they have links to major pharmaceutical and technology companies, Dr. Epstein told convention-goers yesterday.
The group includes women with breast cancer, researchers, cancer workers, medical educators and environmentalists from about 50 countries.
To demonstrate his point, he said there are five studies that show that taking an Aspirin three times a week decreases the risk of getting breast cancer by 30 per cent.
"The reason you haven't heard about this is because Aspirin is a cheap drug. No one's going to make money out of it," he said.
In the past, Dr. Epstein has been outspoken in his criticism of U.S. governmental bodies such has the agriculture department and the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to protect consumers from harmful chemicals and foods.
Hormones used to boost growth in the meat cattle industry and others used to make cows produce more milk are known carcinogens, he said.
Sharon Batt, a breast cancer survivor who formed a group called Breast Cancer Action Montreal said last month that there's no money in prevention.
Many strategies to reduce the incidence of breast cancer are threatening to a lot of industries, and to the medical community itself, said Ms. Batt, who recently became chair of women's studies at Halifax's Mount St. Vincent University, where she plans to teach about health activism.
For example, the frequency with which women are prescribed hormonal drugs, including birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy, is cause for concern, said Ms. Batt.
But Dorothy Lamont, CEO of the Canadian Cancer Society, dismisses the accusations of withholding information on treatments from the public.
"It's simply wrong -- what can I say. That sort of stuff is not really worthy of much of a comment," she said.
Ms. Lamont said she has never heard of the use of Aspirin being beneficial in the fight against breast cancer and that allegations such as those made by Dr. Epstein don't help people suffering from breast cancer.
There is a balance to be struck when allocating resources to such a huge fight, Ms. Lamont said. "There will always be someone who says we haven't got it right and we constantly strive to do the things that we think are going to make the biggest difference."
The work of the society includes disseminating the best and most credible information to the public about reducing risk and changing lifestyles -- simple messages like the importance of eating fruits and vegetables, and practical support to cancer patients.
"We're pretty proud of our track record, frankly, in this area, and clearly, as far as I'm concerned, this guy doesn't know what he's talking about."
Dr. Epstein's "Dirty Dozen" of cancer risk factors to avoid:
- oral contraceptives, especially prolonged use starting at a young age. (Dr. Epstein said the pill is the most serious preventable risk factor for breast cancer)
- estrogen replacement therapy
- premenopausal mammography
- non-hormonal prescription drugs such as tranquilizers
- silicone gel implants, especially those wrapped in polyurethane foam
- diets high in animal fat and dairy products containing biosynthetic bovine growth hormone
- Household chemicals and cleaners such as paint strippers
- Workplace exposure to carcinogens such as asbestos
- Alcohol with early and excessive use
- Tobacco with early and excessive use
- Inactivity and sedentary lifestyle
- Early and prolonged use of dark hair dyes