CHICAGO, IL, December 9, 2011 -/WORLD-WIRE/- The Cancer Prevention Coalition is today calling for public scrutiny of the attitude taken by National Cancer Institute Director Harold Varmus toward the prevention of cancer. In a November 16, 2011 Journal of the National Cancer Institute article, “Why the U.S. Has Gone Global in the Fight Against Cancer,” Eric Rosenthal quotes Dr. Varmus as saying that he “wants us to look very carefully at what needs to be done in the areas of cancer research, cancer prevention – and broader issues of cancer control.”
Varmus has a distinguished track record in basic research on cancer treatment, acknowledges Cancer Prevention Coalition Chairman Samuel S. Epstein, MD. However, as emphasized in a March 2010 Cancer Prevention Coalition press release, “this is paralleled by frank ignorance of well-documented and longstanding scientific evidence on cancer prevention.”
Moreover, as long ago as 1998, Varmus claimed, “You can’t do experiments to see what causes cancer – it’s not an accessible problem, and not the sort of thing scientists can afford to do – everything you do can’t be risky.”
Contrary to Varmus, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has published annual reports on carcinogens, largely based on carcinogenicity tests on rodents, since 1964. The National Toxicology Program (NTP) has also published, and continues to do so, systematic and comprehensive reviews on carcinogens, again largely based on carcinogenicity tests, since 1980. Dr. Epstein points out that “both the IARC and NTP reports detail decades-old unarguable scientific evidence on what causes cancer.”
“The ignorance or indifference of Varmus to cancer prevention is reinforced by his unrecognized personal conflicts of interest,” asserts Dr. Epstein. “In 1995, Varmus, then director of the National Institutes of Health, revoked the ‘reasonable pricing clause,’ which protected against exorbitant industry profiteering from the sale of drugs developed with taxpayer money.”
Varmus also gave senior NCI staff free license to consult with the cancer drug industry, which Dr. Epstein terms, “a flagrant institutional conflict of interest.” In this connection, the 2008 edition of the Charity Rating Guide & Watchdog Report listed Varmus with a compensation package of about $2.7 million. According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, this is the highest compensation to directors in over 500 major non-profit organizations ever monitored.
As a past major recipient of NCI funds for basic genetic research, Varmus warned that “reasonable pricing” clauses, protecting against exorbitant industry profiteering from drugs developed with taxpayer dollars, were driving away private industry. So he struck these from agreements between industry and the NCI. “As a consequence,” Dr. Epstein says, “Varmus has eliminated any price controls on cancer drugs made at the taxpayer expense.”
“Illustratively,” says Dr. Epstein, “using taxpayers’ money, NCI paid for the research and development of Taxol, an anticancer drug manufactured by Bristol-Myers Squibb. Following completion of clinical trials, an extremely expensive process in itself, the public paid again for developing the drug’s manufacturing process.”
Once completed, the NCI gave Bristol-Myers Squibb the exclusive right to sell Taxol at an inflationary price, says Dr. Epstein, quoting the investigative journalist, Joel Bleifuss, who warned in a 1995 In These Times article, “Bristol-Myers Squibb sells Taxol to the public for $4.87 per milligram, which is more than 20 times what it costs to produce.”
Taxol has been a blockbuster for Bristol-Myers, posting sales of over $3 billion since its approval in 1992, and accounting for about 40 percent of the company’s sales.
“NCI Director Varmus still appears unconcerned that almost 700 carcinogens, to which the public is periodically or regularly exposed, have been identified and published in scientific journals by independent scientists,” Dr. Epstein says. “He also seems unaware that the more cancer is prevented the less there is to treat.”
Based on recent estimates by the National Institutes of Health, the total costs of cancer are about $219 billion each year. The annual costs to taxpayers of diagnosis and treatment amount to $89 billion; the annual costs of premature death are conservatively estimated at $112 billion; and the annual costs due to loss of productivity are conservatively estimated at $18 billion. “The human costs surely are of far greater magnitude. Much of these costs could be saved by cancer prevention,” declares Dr. Epstein.
Examples of these avoidable cancers include:
•Malignant melanoma (mortality) of the skin in adults has increased by 185% due to the use of sunscreens in childhood that fail to block long wave ultraviolet light
•Thyroid cancer has increased by 168% due in large part to childhood dental and other radiation
•Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma has increased by 83% due mostly to phenoxy herbicides; and phenylenediamine hair dyes
•Testicular cancer has increased by 58% due to pesticides; hormonal ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products; and estrogen residues in meat;
•Childhood leukemia has increased by 42% due to ionizing radiation; domestic pesticides; nitrite preservatives in meats, particularly hot dogs; and parental exposures to occupational carcinogens;
•Ovary cancer (mortality) for women over the age of 65 has increased by 39% in African American women and 10% in Caucasian women due to genital use of talc powder;
•Breast cancer has increased by 21% due to a wide range of factors. These include: birth control pills; toxic hormonal ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products; diagnostic radiation; and routine premenopausal mammography, with a cumulative breast dose exposure of up to about five rads over ten years.
These concerns regarding Dr. Varmus have been recognized and endorsed by the following leading national experts on cancer prevention:
Rosalie Bertell, PhD
Regent, International Physicians for Humanitarian Medicine, Geneva, Switzerland
Past President of International Institute for Concern for Public Health
Executive Director, Organic Consumers Association
Janette D. Sherman, MD
New York Academy of Sciences, 2009
Quentin D. Young, MD
Chairman, Health and Medicine Policy Research Group
Past President of American Public Health Association
Samuel S. Epstein, M.D. is professor emeritus of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health; Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition; and former President of the Rachel Carson Trust. His awards include the 1998 Right Livelihood Award and the 2005 Albert Schweitzer Golden Grand Medal for International Contributions to Cancer Prevention. He is the author of over 270 scientific articles and 20 books on the causes and prevention of cancer, including the groundbreaking The Politics of Cancer (1979, Doubleday Books), Healthy Beauty (2010, BenBella Books) and National Cancer Institute And American Cancer Society: Criminal Indifference to Cancer Prevention and Conflicts of Interest (2011, Xlibris Publishing).
Samuel S. Epstein, M.D.
Chairman, Cancer Prevention Coalition
Professor emeritus Environmental & Occupational Medicine
University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health
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