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WASH POST: Author's Book on Cancer Fuels Flames Again
Ilena Rosenthal & The Humantics Foundation applauds Dr. Devra Davis
and her brave viewpoint. May God protect her from those who don't want
this information to be known.
"Author's Book on Cancer Fuels Flames Again"
By Cindy Skrzycki
In The Washington Post, D03
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Devra Davis spent part of her growing-up years in a Pennsylvania steel
town that became famous for a lethal industrial fog that settled over
the community and killed 20 people over five days in 1948.
So it's no surprise that Davis, 61, an epidemiologist at the
University of Pittsburgh, has written controversial books drawing on
her experiences. The latest, "The Secret History of the War on
Cancer," claims that 10 million cancer deaths could have been avoided
over the past 30 years had it not been for industry opposition to good
science and regulatory inaction by the U.S. government.
Davis's message, hailed as courageous or fanatical and fringe, arrives
at a time when the public is concerned about tainted domestic food
supplies, lax import rules on lead-contaminated toys, and charges of
doctored government reports on climate change.
"We want to believe we can cure cancer -- throw a lot of money at it
and solve the problem," Davis said in an interview. "It hasn't worked
because we want to kill the disease but don't look at what causes it."
A major theme of the book is that the battle against cancer is being
fought mostly on the treatment front. The overall cancer death rate
has declined in recent years because there are fewer smokers and
better detection and treatments. About half a million Americans die of
cancer annually, the National Cancer Institute says.
The hard work of identifying environmental factors that may lead to
cancer is often not undertaken, Davis writes. Or the results of
research are ignored, dismissed as lacking proof, or treated as a
"trade secret" by the government and manufacturers.
Not enough attention is being paid, she says, to the effects of small
doses of chemicals that, when taken together, may put people at risk.
Davis, director of the Center for Environmental Oncology at Pitt's
cancer institute, raises a red flag on children using cellphones or
bubble baths containing 1,4-Dioxane, a foaming agent that is banned in
Europe because it has been linked to cancer in animals. She cautions
people of all ages to avoid home insulation containing asbestos, to
limit CT scans and to shun the use of aspartame.
"It's death by a 1,000 cuts for us and our children from these low-
level toxins," she said.
"Unusual cancers" are popping up in younger people, she said, with a
growing number of cases of childhood leukemia and brain and kidney
cancer. Ten percent of the nation's 10 million cancer survivors are
younger than 40.
Regulators should look at the combined risks of small amounts of
hazardous substances and find safer alternatives, Davis argues. She
would let companies tell what they learned about the hazards of their
products from their own research, in exchange for amnesty from legal
Davis's book is drawing predictable reactions from each end of the
"We see the out-and-out manipulation of research or suppression of
it," said Francesca Grifo, senior scientist and director of the Union
of Concerned Scientists' scientific integrity program in Washington.
"The fact she is putting these things together maybe will get people
to ask more questions."
On the other hand, Bruce Ames, a retired University of California
biochemist and National Medal of Science winner, said Davis is
fanatical and "has gone completely overboard about traces of chemicals
versus what is out there -- bad diets and smoking."
Elizabeth M. Whelan, president and founder of the American Council on
Science and Health, a New York group of doctors and scientists who
question the reliability of the science government uses to regulate,
agrees with Ames. She called Davis's book "fringe." The real health
risks, Whelan said, are tobacco, exposure to sunlight, obesity, and
for women, sexual habits, childlessness and drinking too much.
The Donora accident from childhood prompted Davis to write her first
book, "When Smoke Ran Like Water," which became a National Book Award
finalist after it was published in 2002. It took 20 years and the loss
of both parents to cancer for her to write her new book.
Equally important in shaping her views, Davis said, were the years she
spent in Washington. She worked on toxicology studies at the
Environmental Protection Agency in the 1970s. She spent a decade at
the National Academy of Sciences, again focusing on environmental
toxins. And President Bill Clinton appointed her head of the U.S.
Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, which investigates
She said she learned in Washington how corporate lawyers had succeeded
in setting the standard of proof for dangerous chemicals higher than
it should be by arguing that it's hard to "prove" what the real cause
of a cancer might be.
"In the absence of regulatory focus in the U.S. today and the lack of
leadership, we are losing ground," Davis said. "The devastating impact
on science makes McCarthyism look like child's play."
(Cindy Skrzycki is a regulatory columnist with Bloomberg News.
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