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Environmental Cancer:
Science, Not Politics

Letters to the Editor
The Wall Street Journal
Copyright (c) 1999, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

In his Feb. 24 Leisure & Arts review of S. Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman’s book Environmental Cancer — A Political Disease? Michael Fumento writes: "As Messrs. Lichter and Rothman demonstrate, this skewing of scientific reality is accomplished not just through a reporter’s choice of stories and the flow of his narrative but also through his selection of "experts" to quote.

Two such `experts’ are Sidney Wolfe, of the Naderite group Public Citizen, and Samuel Epstein, of the University of Chicago. They can be counted on to sound the alarm, claiming that a given man-made chemical, pollutant or device causes cancer or other health problems. That’s probably why their names pop up regularly on the news. Yet each received a high confidence rating from fewer than one in four cancer researchers,’ the authors write."

The majority of these "cancer researchers," who trivialize the cancer epidemic and the role of industrial carcinogens, are oncologists fixated on damage control (diagnosis and treatment) and basic molecular biologists, with minimal interest or expertise in the causes and prevention of cancer. Nevertheless, up to one in four of these researchers accorded to me and Dr. Wolfe, "a high confidence rating," in contrast to Mr. Fumento’s accusation of our "exaggeration and scare-mongering."

Also, a group of 65 authorities in public health and preventive medicine, together with past directors of three federal agencies — OSHA, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health — endorsed my February 1992 statement warning that "Age-standardized incidence rates have escalated to epidemic proportions over recent decades while the ability to treat and cure most cancers has not materially improved. Much cancer is avoidable and due to past exposure to chemical and physical carcinogens in the air, water and food and the workplace."

Samuel S. Epstein, M.D.
Professor
Environmental and Occupational Medicine
University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago

Cancer Incidence, Mortality Declining

By Gilbert L. Ross, M.D.
To the Editor:

When Dr. Samuel Epstein (letter, March 15) refers to "the cancer epidemic," he apparently believes that if he and his activist cohorts repeat a falsehood often enough, the American public will come to believe it. The facts, however, prove that the opposite is true: according to statistics published by the National Cancer Institute, and endorsed by the American Cancer Society, cancer incidence and mortality rates have been declining over the past five years.

Of course, there are individual exceptions to this general rule, as is to be expected. Lung cancer rates in women, for example, are still rising. This is attributable to the increased rate of smoking in women over the past two decades. The increased incidence rate of prostate cancer earlier this decade, and the increased rate of breast cancer which occurred in the 1980’s, were both attributable to better methods of detection. Lower death rates for both types of cancer, which is after all the goal of early detection, have recently been achieved.

Furthermore, blithely ascribing this non-existent "cancer epidemic" to environmental carcinogens betrays Epstein’s motivation: to encourage the public’s baseless fear of insidious "chemicals" and "carcinogens" in our "air, water, and food...." Anything can cause cancer in laboratory rodents; humans, fortunately, are made of sterner stuff.

Gilbert L. Ross, M.D. is Medical Director of the American Council on Science and Health in New York.


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Read Michael Fumento’s additional work on cancer and on the media.