There once was an ambitious man bent on climbing the ladder of success.  But after much climbing, he found the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall.  This same idea applies to cancer research.

For decades, research dollars have largely focused on the biology of cancer and various treatment modalities to control the detectible cell mutations.  To their credit, researchers have made some gains in some types of cancer.  But progress has been too little and too slow and too late for millions of cancer patients.

It’s time, past time, we direct cancer research funding toward primary prevention.

Christopher Wild, former director of the World Health Organizations International Agency for Research on Cancer succinctly pointed out at a recent conference, “. . . half of cancer could be prevented.”

Half!  50% prevented!

The study of cancer cell biology is a post-diagnosis endeavor; the patient is already dealing with cancer.  And treatment research takes the cell biology efforts and attempts to match solutions with the problem.  Neither addresses the key question, “What caused the cancer?”

Asking the cause question is actually rather contentious in the world of cancer.  The central and often heated debate among scientists is if most malignancies stem from random DNA mutations or from exposure to carcinogens including behaviors that might be avoided.

Environmental toxicology used to have a central place in cancer research.  But then genetics overshadowed studies of the environmental causes of cancer.

Margaret Kripke, PhD, an immunologist and professor emeritus at MD Anderson Cancer Center noted at the same conference, “Over 80,000 chemicals are used in the United States but only a few have been tested for carcinogenic activity.”  She went on to give an urgent call for the reassessment of the role of environmental toxins in cancer research.

Cancer Recovery Action Network joins in this call.  We live in a sea of chemicals.  We must understand the impact of these chemicals on health and particularly on cancer.

More research dollars must first flow to establishing the connection between environmental toxins and cancer.  That knowledge then needs to be followed by policy initiatives at the federal and state levels.

The effort is likely to following the tobacco cessation efforts in the U.S.  Scientists knew in the early 1950s that smoking causes cancer.  Even though absolute “proof” was not forthcoming for decades, the correlation between cigarettes and lung cancer was overwhelming.  It eventually led to high cigarette taxes and public smoking bans.

So, too, with environmental toxicants.  We must drive cancer research funding toward primary prevention.  And the 80,000+ toxicants found in our food, air, water, clothing, and consumer products are the place to start.

The public health stakes are high.  We must shift cancer research funding now.  It’s how we can actually prevent half of our cancers.

Greg Anderson
August 2021