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American Cancer Society: Amoral Profiteers

The American Cancer Society must be one of the most arrogant profiteers in the Big Business of cancer. The audacity to criticize a much needed focus on environmental carcinogens, as the 2010 President's Cancer Panel Report has done, is surely driven by a greed-based desire to accept the status quo.

The world's wealthiest "non-profit" cancer charitiy apparently does not care that children are being diagnosed with cancer at unprecedented rates and for unknown reasons. Any charity that pays their top employees salaries totaling millions of dollars every year and yet gives less than 1 penny of every donated dollar to childhood cancer, clearly has amoral and ulterior motives for attempting to degrade a report that seeks to increase knowledge of carcinogens that are causing people irreparable harm.

On the very day the President's Cancer Panel (the Panel) released its 2010 report to the public, the American Cancer Society's (ACS) director of medical and scientific communications, David Sampson, who was apparently unable to draw his own conclusions, drew attention to a statement made by a reporter at ABC who couldn't locate "solid science" to support her false assertion that the Panel had claimed "the study of environmental factors" had "been giving short shrift" compared to other causes of cancer. Since the Panel made no such statement, it appears Sampson is simply creating a diversion, or as he puts it, a "rub."

Determined to further insult the public's intelligence, Sampson implies the report is so complex that reviewing it requires an Official Name, followed by an Alphabet Soup with Credentials; he chose Michael J. Thun, MD, "vice president emeritus, Epidemiology & Surveillance Research" (a policy wonk for ACS) I never went much further than 9th grade in school, but I'm having no difficulty understanding the fairly simple language used to examine issues that, at least the Panel understands, are of critical importance to the American people. I urge readers to download the report (pdf) and read it for yourself. It contains fascinating, factual information that you truly have a right to know. Like the FACT that the percentage of people being diagnosed with cancer increases every year. And the FACT that currently, corporations do not have to prove the safety of their products before unleashing them on the public.

Thun's disingenuous "review" states: "the report is unbalanced by its implication that pollution is the major cause of cancer." But, the report makes no such statement! What it actually says is that the Panel dedicated the current year's annual report "to examining the impact of environmental factors on cancer risk" because there is rapidly growing evidence that suggests there is "much work ahead to identify the many existing but unrecognized environmental carcinogens." The Panel clearly stated that the report is "not intended to be a complete evaluation of all sources and types of contaminants." It is crystal clear that the Panel believes the public deserves answers and guidance stating: "Efforts to inform the public of such harmful exposures and how to prevent them must be increased."

Thun goes on to call the Panel's report "provocative" when he falsely claims it "restates hypotheses as if they were established facts." As an example he quotes, not the report but, a letter to President Obama, that said, in part, “the true burden of environmentally (i.e. pollution) induced cancer has been grossly underestimated.” (Thun added the "i.e. pollution") Thun claimed their assertion doesn't represent scientific consensus. To support their position the Panel pointed to the fact that there are nearly 80,000 chemicals used daily by millions of Americans and that for the most part, they had not been thoroughly studied and are mostly unregulated.

Thun actually proves the Panel is correct when he directs readers to an ACS report titled: "American Cancer Society Perspectives on Environmental Factors and Cancer" (Thun is listed as one of the report's authors) The ACS report states: "The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified 935 chemicals, industrial processes, and other exposures as of 2009". Only 935 out of 80,000 have been classified!!! Thun obviously believes that's good enough for the American people, but the Panel thinks we deserve better than that.

But, what's even more shocking is that of those 935 items, only 1 was found to be "probably not carcinogenic"; 515 were "not classifiable" and the remaining 419 chemicals are assumed to "present a carcinogenic hazard to humans"!!! Why the heck Thun would use that report to support his position is mind-boggling! Maybe he assumed that when people realized it appears to be the typical mumbo-jumbo of most scientific articles that they wouldn't bother reading it. Think again, Thun; this is one mother who is getting to be quite an expert at deciphering the medical community's secret code. (BTW, in case you haven't heard, doctors no longer enjoy their elitist status of self-appointed Gatekeepers of Sacred Knowledge; the Internet has dethroned you!!)

An examination of the ACS report reveals countless discrepancies and contradictions with Thun's repugnant bashing of the Panel's report.  On its face, it seems the ACS actually supports many of the Panel's positions.  A few blatant examples (all are "direct quotes"):

*ACS regarding current tests for carcinogens (2 year studies on rats): "They often do not address some questions relevant to predicting potential cancer risks in humans. For example, due to technical limitations and funding, the animal studies may have been conducted using only one route of exposure, which may or may not be the most common route of exposure or concern in humans. It may be difficult or impossible to generate exposures for animal studies that match those in environmental settings. This is a growing concern for evaluating the carcinogenicity of substances that are now being produced"

*ACS position on prevention: "Decisions regarding prevention must inevitably be made in the context of some degree of scientific uncertainty. The need to make decisions in the face of accruing but still incomplete evidence has long been recognized. In 1965, Sir Austin Bradford Hill, the British medical statistician wrote: "All scientific work is incomplete—whether it be observational or experimental. All scientific work is liable to be upset or modified by advancing knowledge. That does not confer upon us a freedom to ignore the knowledge we already have or to postpone the action that it appears to demand at a given time."

*ACS on communicating with the public: "It is important to provide the public with information so that they can make informed choices....It is important that communications acknowledge and not trivialize public concerns"

*ACS on where their information comes from: "Because of the scope and complexity of identifying and classifying chemicals, the ACS relies on established national and international organizations that regularly conduct and publish such evaluations"

*ACS on future testing: "The ACS supports the implementation of new strategies for toxicity testing, including the assessment of carcinogenicity, that will more effectively and efficiently screen the large number of chemicals to which people are exposed"

*ACS position on advocacy: "The ACS advocates for legislation and policies to achieve its mission of eliminating cancer as a major health problem"

*ACS on environmental "issues that merit further in-depth consideration": "Accelerate the testing of new and existing chemicals for potential carcinogenicity; monitor the bioaccumulation of chemicals in humans and in the food chain; (monitor) the effects on humans of chemicals that mimic naturally occurring hormones"

Clearly, Thun's "review" of the President's Cancer Panel's report is NOT in line with the stated goals and positions of the ACS report that he helped write less than a year ago.

I am certainly not alone in my disgust for the ACS. Following their article were comments posted by readers (all negative), including: "Shame on the American Cancer Society", and "you do us a grave disservice", "ridiculous, misleading", one angry parent didn't appreciate the ACS "belittling the experience of thousands of children" and suggested they "shut your face and let this research go forward."

My suggestion for Mr. Director of Medical and Scientific Communications: learn to read and disseminate information on your own so you can (maybe) write your own article. And for Mr. Official Name with Credentials: public relations is a tough gig; you might try going back to the wonk-room with an Appletini and reflect on the implications of slapping your name on "Official Reports" that either you don't agree with or simply haven't read.

If people wish to truly help families affected by cancer, here's a list of more than 25 meaningful things you can do to reduce suffering.  And by all means, contact President Obama and tell him to heed the advice of the Panel:
 "The Panel urges you most strongly to use the power of your office to remove the carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water, and air that needlessly increase health care costs, cripple our Nation’s productivity, and devastate American lives."

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