CANCER WARS by Robert N. Proctor


How Politics Shapes What We Know and Don't Know About Cancer
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 Pulling no punches and dodging no controversy, Proctor dives into the politics of cancer research. Given the disease's high media profile and the money lavished on battling it, why has its death rate continued to climb? Proctor (History of Science/Pennsylvania State Univ.; Racial Hygiene: Medicine Under the Nazis, 1988, etc.) focuses on the ways in which special interests ranging from the Tobacco Institute to Dupont Chemicals have influenced cancer research. The notion that cancer is ``a disease of civilization''--implying that it is an inescapable cost of progress--goes back to the 19th century, when it was learned that pollutants such as chimney soot from coal fires could cause cancer. More recently, the link between cancer and the byproducts of industry has been forged by researchers like Wilhelm Heuper, who fought a long battle to establish the case against occupational cancer hazards, and writers like Rachel Carson, whose own life was cut short by the disease. As with many others who pointed the finger of blame at large industries, they were vilified as crackpots, Luddites, and enemies of progress. Proctor discusses in detail the campaigns waged by PR firms to discredit evidence that tobacco or asbestos might be serious carcinogens: He dissects such familiar arguments as the unreliability of animal tests, or the balancing of ``unproven'' health risks against the economic costs of reform. Proctor estimates that as many as 600,000 cancer deaths may be attributable to foot-dragging by the Reagan and Bush administrations on regulation of industrial hazards. But the book offers little comfort to those who would demonize only Republicans. Not even Jimmy Carter escapes criticism for his firing of an HEW secretary who was too quick to blame the tobacco industry for marketing a carcinogen. Essential reading for anyone concerned with the debate on issues of public health and medical research.

Pub Date: March 29th, 1995
ISBN: 0-465-02756-3
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1995


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