It is impossible to overstate the importance of knowing your enemy in James Watson’s Op-Ed for the New York Times on August 5. In spite of Watson’s belief that new “miracle drugs” can be effective alone or in combination, Dr. Samuel Epstein, Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, says he is wrong in that belief. As he says, the only way to prevent cancer is to act before it begins.
Watson’s belief in “miracle drugs” is echoed by claims made by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) that “innovative treatment” or “targeted drugs” have been successful. As a leading national oncologist and Nobelist in 2004, Leland Hartwell warned that “Congress and the public now spend $4.7 billion a year on promoting ineffective drugs” for terminal diseases.
Moreover, the costs of these new biotech drugs have more than tripled in the past decade without any evidence that they have improved survival rates. A mere $130 million, 2.17 percent, of the NCI budget is allocated to prevention, while the NCI budget has risen to $6 billion this year.
Dr. Epstein and 20 other national experts on prevention wrote a letter on June 9 to four congressional committees in response to concerns that cancer prevention was not given enough attention in President Obama’s Cancer Plan. In addition to the Senate Appropriations Committee, the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Appropriations Committee are also members of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Among the recommendations we made to Congress were that it be amended to include a statement declaring that the United States will reduce cancer-causing (carcinogenic) exposures by at least half within the next decade. In addition, we recommended that the NCI publish a comprehensive public register of all known carcinogens in the air, water, and workplace, along with updates as needed on a yearly basis.
As a final recommendation, we called for the NCI to make major policy changes. This included the appointment of a new Deputy Director for Cancer Prevention, and the allocation of at least 40% of its budget to prevention programs starting in 2010. However, the Obama Administration has not responded to any of these proposals so far.
Among Epstein’s many accomplishments are being a professor emeritus at the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, and author of more than 200 scientific articles and 15 books about cancer, including the groundbreaking The Politics of Cancer (1979) and Toxic Beauty (2010).
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