Cancer: Are We Winning The War?

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If you read cancer support websites and official figures, you’d say a definitive ‘yes, of course we’re winning the war’ but we all remember that saying ‘Lies, damned lies and statistics’ don’t we?

Let’s take a close look at the official figures and what lies behind them, before we make up our minds.

The war begins

It was back in 1971 that US President Nixon declared war on cancer, saying if we can put a man on the moon, surely, we could find a cure for cancer. It seemed like a reasonable assertion and it was an expensive one: since then in the US alone, more than $250 billion has been spent on cancer research.

If you look at official figures, like those of the American Cancer Society (ACS), the leading cancer fighting organisation according to its website, we’re clearly winning the war: ‘The cancer death rate rose until 1991, then fell continuously through 2017, resulting in an overall decline of 29%…’

 That’s nearly 30% reduction in 46 years, which is pretty impressive, yet not everyone agrees.

The cancer death rate rose until 1991, then fell continuously through 2017, resulting in an overall decline of 29%…’

American Cancer Society

But are we winning it?

In this 2020 article in Scientific American, the decrease is put into context: the rise and fall of cancer deaths track the rise and fall of smoking, with a lag of a couple of decades, and thats exactly what the data show.

You see, smoking took off in the 1930s, (including by doctors who, incredibly, promoted it), falling sharply in the 1970s when the link between smoking and cancer was made. The cancer rates shadowed the smoking rates with a lag of 20 years, yet it’s the 1990s peak figure which is most used as the baseline. It shouldn’t be.

If the baseline point were cancer rates in 1930, before smoking took off, the data tell a very different tale: ‘…the current age-adjusted mortality rate for all cancers in the U.S. (152.4 deaths per 100,000 people) is just under what it was in 1930.’

In other words, the true rate of cancer deaths hasn’t reduced (in the USA) after nearly 100 years of research and treatment.

the current age-adjusted mortality rate for all cancers in the U.S. (152.4 deaths per 100,000 people) is just under what it was in 1930.

Scientific American 2020

A matter of viewpoint

Even today, the American Cancer Society (ACS) sees the same figures quite differently. It uses the trajectory of cancer deaths elevated by smoking to celebrates its success:   

Deaths expected compared to actual

‘The cancer death rate rose until 1991, then fell continuously through 2017, resulting in an overall decline of 29% that translates into an estimated 2.9 million fewer cancer deaths than would have occurred if peak rates had persisted.

In explaining the graph at right, the ACS says ‘The blue line represents the actual number of cancer deaths recorded in each year, and the red line represents the number of cancer deaths that would have been expected if cancer death rates had remained at their peak.’

Seeing these words in context with smoking, you could say this: if people had kept smoking at the same rates, they would have kept dying of cancer at the same rates. They didn’t so cancer rates have gone down.

The blue line represents the actual number of cancer deaths recorded in each year, and the red line represents the number of cancer deaths that would have been expected if cancer death rates had remained at their peak.

American Cancer Society

The war continues

30 years after Nixon, the human genome was unraveled, giving another president, Bill Clinton, unprecedented weaponry to fight the war. 

At the core of cancer is the Somatic Mutation Theory (SMT) which states that ‘cancer is a cellular, subcellular and molecular disease’. In other words, cancer is an aberration in cells of the body.  

But is cancer genetic?

That led to a frenzy of research into genetic causes for cancer. Looking back from  2017, this article in ‘Organisms’ journal describes it like this:

‘…the research community has become fixated on the promise of sequencing technology, which enables genetic and epigenetic changes in cells to be measured on a vast scale. Never has science offered a clearer example of a preoccupation with trees at the expense of the forest’. In other words, excitement over the shiny new tools seems to have clouded the vision of some researchers.      

...Never has science offered a clearer example of a preoccupation with trees at the expense of the forest.

Organisms 2017
Dr Azra Raza, Columbia University

‘No one is winning the war’

Dr Azra Raza, Professor of Medicine and Director of the MDS Center at Columbia University, has a similarly pessimistic view. In her 2019 book The First Cell: And the Costs of Pursuing Cancer to the Last, Raza says: ‘No one is winning the war on cancer. It is mostly hype, the same rhetoric from the same self-important voices for the past half a century.’

In a recent blog post, Raza wrote that the lack of success had made her ‘unspeakably depressed. Demoralized. For fifty years, massive intellectual and financial resources have been invested pursuing one dream. In the 1970s, a model evolved suggesting that one or a handful of mutations cause cancer that can be cured by one or a handful of magic bullets.’

Theoretical physicist Paul Davies agrees, arguing that the SMT should be retired: ‘The deep entrenchment of the Somatic Mutation Theory is a major impediment to progress.’

So What Does Cause Cancer?

If you dig deeper into cancer as I did, you’ll find that Raza and Davies are just two of many researchers who disagree with the ‘cancer is your genes, nothing you can do’ theory. There are too many to mention here, but I devote nearly 100 pages to cancer cause and prevention in my eBook: Cancer – Make Your Own Luck.

(Spoiler alert: the great news is that the official story is quite wrong. The causes of cancer are much closer to home – and easier to modify – than your genes.)

Click below to find out what’s in this new eBook. The terrific news is that there is a lot you can do right now to avoid a cancer diagnosis.

Cancer: Make Your Own Luck

CANCER: MAKE
YOUR OWN LUCK

Discover how Aussie boomers can take control & cut the risk

Kim Brebach

Tracey James

Hello, I’m Tracey James, boomer, former scientist, technical writer and Fixer of Things at M&M. In my spare time, I like to walk, swim and garden.   

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