How Cancer Charities Kill People

Dr Vernon Coleman MB ChB DSc FRSA

Cancer is, along with heart disease, stroke and doctors, one of the four big killers of our time. But cancer is the killer that frightens people most. The very word is so emotive that most doctors try not to use it when talking to patients. Instead of talking of cancer they talk of `tumours' and `growths'. They know that cancer is something most people don't like to talk about.

In fact, until it touches them or someone in their family most people try not even to think about cancer.

When they see a collecting tin for a cancer charity, they may pop in a few coins in the belief that by making a donation to a cancer charity they are helping to conquer the disease. Putting money into a cancer charity collecting tin is like throwing coins into a wishing well; it is the 21st century equivalent of a good luck charm.

In order to ensure that money continues to pour in, the cancer industry must persuade potential contributors and supporters that it is making progress in the fight against cancer. Inevitably, the industry needs a vast quantity of money just to remain in business; there are salaries to be paid, rents and rates to be paid, electricity bills to be paid, advertising and public relations departments to pay for and so on.

To help in this aim, the huge worldwide cancer industry must frequently release news about exciting new cancer remedies. Some of these widely promoted new treatments are in the early stages of being tested on human patients, some are not yet being tested on humans but are promoted as the new `wonder' cure for cancer on the basis of animal experiments, and some are talked about as new `breakthroughs' largely or even exclusively on the basis of a scientist's theory or hypothesis. These news stories raise hopes falsely and distract attention and finance from those areas which really need it (the prevention of cancer and the care of those who have cancer) but they serve the purpose: they raise money for the cash-hungry cancer industry.

When someone rattles a collecting tin in front of you and tells you that they need just a few more pence in order to continue with their breakthrough research it is difficult to say `no'. It is hardly surprising that the worldwide cancer industry's income continues to grow at a quite phenomenal rate.

But has the cancer industry really made any noticeable progress in the fight against cancer? I don't think so. The mortality figures show that more people are dying from commoner forms of cancer now than were a generation ago. One in three people already has, or will develop, cancer.

Today, despite the vast amounts of money spent on research, cancer is firmly positioned (along with circulatory disease and doctors) as one of the three big `killers' of the westernised world. The fact that the incidence of cancer has increased dramatically during the 20th and 21st centuries confirms, in my opinion, the view that cancer is, to a large extent, a man-made disease, created largely by our changing diet and our addiction to tobacco as well as our exposure to chemicals and pollution. Researchers found only one case of cancer among hundreds of Egyptian mummies and by the 19th century cancer was still a relatively uncommon disease. According to Garrison's History of Medicine the disease only began to show an `alarming increase' in the early part of the 20th century.

The incidence of cancer has steadily gone up despite or because of the absurdly named and poorly planned `war on cancer'. In my view, the people who are well-paid to `fight' cancer have made things worse by desperately searching for cures instead of concentrating their efforts on dealing with identified causes. The trouble is that the cures they produce and promote (at such enormous profit) often make things worse, not better. In America it has been estimated that around $110 billion a year is spent on cancer. That is more than 10% of American's entire health care bill. But, in America, the incidence of cancer has steadily risen as has the number of people dying of cancer. The treatment methods of choice (surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy) have not improved mortality rates.

Scientists who have assessed the value of the war against cancer agree that we are losing the fight and that there is no evidence to suggest that decades of expensive research have had much, if any, effect on the most fundamental measure of success or failure – death. In areas where cancer has become more amenable to treatment, or now takes fewer lives, it is usually changes in lifestyle which are responsible – not discoveries made in the laboratory.

There are, I believe, several reasons why those fighting the war against cancer are losing. In my book Paper Doctors (published in 1977) I complained that: `Medical researchers involved in publicly or charitably financed cancer research persist in looking for the `magical cure'. Much laboratory work has been started on the mistaken assumption that there is one disease called `cancer' and that there will be a `cure' which will enable doctors to treat all the patients suffering with cancer. Many projects have been funded because organisers (both qualified and lay) believed that they might solve the problem of cancer once and for all to the well-publicised credit of everyone concerned. Much money has undoubtedly been wasted on research which has duplicated work done elsewhere and which has moved in directions unlikely ever to prove of practical benefit.' The cancer industry still spends a vast fortune every year searching for the silver bullet.

We don't need more money pouring into cancer research because we already know what causes most forms of cancer. According to one honest observer: `Basic cancer research is an excellent slush fund for molecular biologists but it won't have any impact on cancer'. Cancer is created by chemical pollutants, by unhealthy, fatty, food and by tobacco. Poisoned water supplies, dangerous prescription drugs and the overuse of X-rays have also contributed to the incidence of cancer.

With immune systems constantly battered by polluted air, adulterated and chemically impregnated food and a constant onslaught from the drugs we buy for ourselves, or allow our doctors to prescribe for us, it is not surprising that increasing numbers of people succumb to one of the many different types of cancer. We know what causes 80% of all cases of cancer. Eight out of ten people who develop cancer could have been saved if money and effort had been put into prevention.

I do not believe that any wonder cure for cancer will come from the `cancer industry'. But if I had the annual income the cancer industry enjoys I believe that I could turn cancer into a historical oddity within five years.

`Why,' you may ask, `do the big cancer charities not spend more money on trying to prevent cancer? Why do they spend all their money gambling on the chance of finding a `cure' when they could save millions of lives simply by using their resources to publicise what we already know?'

To understand the answers to these questions you have to understand that the cancer research industry is exactly that – an industry. It is a massive, worldwide multi-billion dollar industry which employs hundreds of thousands of scientists and administrators. Sadly, I suspect that for many of these employees, the search for a cure for cancer has become the end instead of just the beginning. Much of the cancer industry is run by and for scientific researchers. The cancer industry needs a constant stream of dollars to keep its laboratories running. If the cancer industry spent its income on explaining to people how to avoid cancer there would be little or no place for research laboratories and a great many scientists would be put out of work. Worse still, if the cancer industry reduced the number of people dying of cancer, its own income would fall.

Besides, those whose job it is to raise money know that it is far easier to persuade people to put money into a collecting tin if you tell them that they are contributing towards the search for a cure. Persuading people to avoid known causes of cancer is thankless work. Not many people will put money into your collecting tin if you stand on a street corner handing out leaflets containing sensible eating advice. It is much easier to raise money if you talk about new breakthroughs and show photographs of people (preferably children or pretty young women) who are dying of cancer. It is much easier to raise a million dollars for a new piece of machinery than it is to raise a million dollars for a print bill or a television advertising campaign designed to explain to people how they can avoid cancer.

Those who are responsible for raising money for the cancer industry know that it is impossible to personalise a preventive medicine campaign because you can never show a picture of a man, woman or child whose life has been saved by a leaflet. A picture of a child who is dying of cancer and who is waiting for laboratory scientists to find a cure will attract far more public support than an appeal for funds to help save unnamed individuals in the future.

And so it is the scientists searching for laboratory cures who get the big grants and the prestigious awards and who are fussed over and praised by the politicians and the journalists. Scientists who have established links which would enable us to save millions of lives by organising effective prevention programmes are as unlikely to win Nobel prizes as are doctors who devote themselves to teaching the principles of healthy living to millions of people.

There are many explanations for this disastrous misreading of the needs within cancer research. Undoubtedly one important reason is that there are thousands of surgeons, radiologists and radiotherapists (not to mention pure researchers) earning their living from traditional methods of cancer research and control. Public health is not a fashionable speciality within the medical profession: there is no opportunity for private practice and a general lack of financial incentive for brighter physicians to enter this field. And of equal importance, perhaps, is the fact that industrial pressures all oppose attempts to control the causative factors responsible for the vast majority of cancers.

Today, the cancer researchers are still pleading for more money (as they have been doing for decades); they are still promising that if they are given enough money they will be able to find a cure for cancer. It is, they suggest, only a shortage of money which is responsible for the continuing rise in the incidence of cancer deaths. They want to do more animal experiments and they have now devised animals which are genetically bred to develop cancer.

Cancer industry employees say they want to know `how' cancer develops. They don't seem to understand that the `how' is not important. It would be nice to know the `how'. But it is the `why' which matters. And we already know why cancer is a major killer. By insisting on finding the `how', the cancer industry is playing right into the hands of the industries which are responsible for much cancer.

Consumers quite like the idea of someone finding a `cure' for cancer because it means that they can carry on eating the fatty food they like and smoking the cigarettes they enjoy without having to worry.

`Had such campaigns been at work during the Irish potato famine, which killed more than a million Irish between 1845 and 1849, they might have engendered studies into the biomechanical processes of famine rather than the social forces that gave rise to it,' wrote Robert N. Proctor in The Sciences. `Investigators would have secured funding for research into why starvation ran in families instead of examining the social Darwinist policies of the Manchester era or studying how Ireland was able to export grain even during the worst years of the famine.'

There are very few industries in the world which have grown as rapidly as the cancer industry – the charities, laboratories, research scientists and administrators who are devoted to the search for a cure for cancer have, in recent years, spent billions.

But the irony is the fact that money really isn't the key issue.

You cannot `buy' successful research. Although the huge cancer industry has spent a vast portion of its massive budget on laboratory research designed to find a `magic' cure for cancer, the majority of the most important and dramatic discoveries about cancer have been made by observant practitioners who have devoted themselves to a study of human patients and their habits.

In my book Paper Doctors (1977) I explained: `One of the most important breakthroughs in cancer research of recent years was made, not by researchers in expensive institutes but by a practising British surgeon, Denis Burkitt, working in Uganda. His first research grant from Government funds totalled £15 and his second, for £150, came from the Medical Research Council and was spent on an old jeep. By logical, patient study Burkitt managed to map the occurrence of a tumour common in children in that part of the world. He matched the map he prepared with other factors and eventually managed to show that the cancer was probably caused by a virus. Eventually he learnt how to cure the tumour. So, one of the most important discoveries was made, not by a professional researcher but by an observant doctor happy to continue his studies in his own time and at his own expense. Too many doctors these days are unwilling to begin any research programme unless they are first financed by an official agency and properly recognised as bona fide research workers.'

There have been some very important advances in cancer treatment in recent years. But they have been largely limited to rare cancers that tend to occur in children and young adults, and those make up only perhaps one or two per cent of the total cancer burden. Cancer death rates continue to go up year after year. And survival rates are no better today than they were. The cancer industry deliberately draws attention to its modest successes in the treatment of a few, relatively uncommon childhood cancers (putting pictures of children whose lives have been saved onto promotional leaflets and posters is a sure-fire way to keep the money pouring in). But there has been little or no improvement in the death rates for the big killers: lung cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer or cancer of the colon.

None of this explains why Governments have also failed to teach their citizens the facts about cancer.

However, there are, I believe, two explanations for this seemingly mysterious state of affairs.

Firstly, Governments are always wary of annoying big, powerful, tax-paying industries and there is absolutely no doubt that many huge, international corporations would be (to put it mildly) exceedingly upset if millions of potential consumers were warned of the dangers of eating meat.

Secondly, (and I offer no excuse for the fact that this sounds extremely cynical) Governments do not want people to live longer. On the contrary, they have a vested interest in people not living too long. People who live on into their 60s, 70s and 80s have to be given pensions and cost Governments a great deal of money.

And, of course, doctors are educated by the drug industry, and controlled by it, and the result is that when the average doctor thinks of `patients' he or she thinks of `drugs'. Doctors are taught to respond to illness by prescribing a bottle or a packet of pills. Most doctors have been so brainwashed by the powerful international drugs industry that they regard any treatment which does not involve drugs as hocus pocus and they regard preventive medicine as trivial, irrelevant nonsense which is rather beneath them. And so, for doctors, cancer means chemotherapy.

Doctors frequently claim that people who reject chemotherapy do so because they are fearful of the side effects. This is simplistic and inaccurate and bears comparison with the erroneous claim that people emigrate simply because they want better weather. Patients reject chemotherapy for many reasons. Some know that chemotherapy may damage their recovery and speed their demise. And some know that chemotherapy is grossly overrated, simply does not work and is, like radiotherapy, often likely to do more harm than good. But the slightly sneery accusation that patients who reject chemotherapy do so because they are frightened of the side effects is demeaning, patronising and unworthy. It is also typical of the apologists who defend the drug industry at any cost and who always put the defence of the industry above their compassion and understanding for patients.

The British Government has spent billions on cancer but most of the money has been wasted on yet more bureaucracy. The result of all this misdirection of resources is that Britain still has one of the worst cancer survival rates in Western Europe. In the UK, 36% of men with cancer are likely to live beyond 5 years. This compares very badly with figures of 45% in France and Germany, 50% in Sweden and 55% in Austria.

Finally, it is worth remembering that we know what causes 80% of all cancers. If people ate less fatty food and avoided meat, the incidence of cancer would plummet.

Taken from Vernon Coleman’s book Doctors Kill More People Than Cancer, which is available as an ebook on Amazon.

Copyright Vernon Coleman

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