HOSPITAL GROUP QUESTIONS VALUE OF CHEMOTHERAPY
Do We Need a New Approach to Cancer?
In 1971 Richard Nixon announced the War on Cancer, and promised a cure by the 1977 bicentennial. In each of the 28 years since, more Americans have died of cancer than the year before.
The failure of chemotherapy to control cancer has become apparent even to the oncology establishment. Scientific American featured a recent cover story entitled: "The War on Cancer -- It's Being Lost." In it, eminent epidemiologist John C. Bailar III, MD,Ph.D., Chairman of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at McGill University cited the relentless increase in cancer deaths in the face of growing use of toxic chemotherapy. He concluded that scientists must look in new directions if they are ever to make progress against this unremitting killer.
Adding its voice, the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet, decrying the failure of conventional therapy to stop the rise in breast cancer deaths, noted the discrepancy between public perception and reality. "If one were to believe all the media hype, the triumphal ism of the (medical) profession in published research, and the almost weekly miracle breakthroughs trumpeted by the cancer charities, one might be surprised that women are dying at all from this cancer" it observed. Noting that conventional therapies -- chemotherapy, radiation and surgery -- had been pushed to their limits with dismal results, the editorial called on researchers to "challenge dogma and redirect research efforts along more fruitful lines."
John Cairns, professor of microbiology at Harvard University, published a devastating 1985 critique in Scientific American. "Aside from certain rare cancers, it is not possible to detect any sudden changes in the death rates for any of the major cancers that could be credited to chemotherapy. Whether any of the common cancers can be cured by chemotherapy has yet to be established."
In fact, chemotherapy is curative in very few cancers -- testicular, hodgkins, choriocarcinoma,childhood leukemia. In most common solid tumors -- lung, colon, breast, etc. -- chemotherapy is NOT curative.
In an article entailed "Chemotherapy: Snake-Oil Remedy?" that appeared in the Los Angeles Times of 1/9/87, Dr. Martin F. Shapiro explained that while "some oncologist inform their patients of the lack of evidence that treatments work...others may well be misled by scientific papers that express unwarranted optimism about chemotherapy. Still others respond to an economic incentive. Physicians can earn much more money running active chemotherapy practices than they can providing solace and relief.. to dying patients and their families."
Dr. Shapiro is hardly alone. Alan C. Nixon, Ph.D., Past President of the American Chemical Society wrote that "As a chemist trained to interpret data, it is incomprehensible to me that physicians can ignore the clear evidence that chemotherapy does much, much more harm than good."
In 1986, McGill Cancer Center scientists sent a questionnaire to 118 doctors who treated non-small-cell lung cancer. More than 3/4 of them recruited patients and carried out trials of toxic drugs for lung cancer. They were asked to imagine that they themselves had cancer, and were asked which of six current trials they themselves would choose. 64 of the 79 respondents would not consent to be in a trial containing cisplatin, a common chemotherapy drug. Fifty eight found all the trials unacceptable. Their reason? The ineffectiveness of chemotherapy and its unacceptable degree of toxicity.
Famed German bio statistician Ulrich Abel Ph.D. also found in a similar 1989 study that "the personal views of many oncologist seem to be in striking contrast to communications intended for the public."Breast cancer activist Rose Kushner wrote that by 1981 "indiscriminate, automatic adjuvant chemotherapy was replacing the Halsted radical mastectomy as therapeutic overkill in the United States." Thomas Nealon MD, Professor of Surgery at NYU School of Medicine,Concluded in 1990 that "The treatment of this tumor now has slipped from too much surgery to too much adjuvant therapy."
Why so much use of chemotherapy if it does so little good? Well for one thing, drug companies provide huge economic incentives.
In 1990, $3.53 billion was spent on chemotherapy. By 1994 that figure had more than doubled to $7.51 billion. This relentless increase in chemo use was accompanied by a relentless increase in cancer deaths.
Oncologist Albert Braverman MD wrote in 1991 that "no disseminated neoplasm (cancer) incurable in 1975 is curable today..Many medical oncologists recommend chemotherapy for virtually any tumor, with a hopefulness undiscouraged by almost invariable failure."
Why the growth in chemotherapy in the face of such failure? A look at the financial interrelationships between a large cancer center such a Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the companies that make billions selling chemo drugs is revealing. James Robinson III, Chairman of the MSKCC Board of Overseers and Managers, is a director of Bristol-Myers Squibb, the world's largest producer of chemotherapy drugs. Richard Gelb,Vice-Chairman of the MSKCC board is Bristol-Myers Chairman of the Board. Richard Furlaud, another MSKCC board member, recently retired as Bristol Myers' president. Paul Marks MD, MSKCC's President and CEO, is a director of Pfizer.
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