90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
Where’s The Cure For Cancer?

We examine the ongoing war on cancer, why we’re not closer to a cure already and where the promising research is now.

Christiana Care Health System dermatologist Dr. Cynthia Webster (right) examines Kim Palmer for skin cancer. (Christiana Care/Flickr)

Christiana Care Health System dermatologist Dr. Cynthia Webster (right) examines Kim Palmer for skin cancer. (Christiana Care/Flickr)

The big news from the world of cancer research this week was about how we talk about cancer — how we define it, describe it, when a patient has some early evidence in the breast or prostate or lung.

But it raises the question, even the complaint — never mind the semantics — where’s the cure? The war on cancer is decades old.  The number of cases still soars.  The answers, elusive.

A top reporter with us says we’ve lost our way. A top research chief says we’re on it.

This hour, On Point: Where’s the cure for cancer?

– Tom Ashbrook


Dr. Jonathan LaPook, chief medical correspondent for “CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley” and clinical professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. (@DrLaPook)

Clifton Leaf, contributing editor at Fortune Magazine and author of the new book “The Truth In Small Doses: Why We’re Losing The War On Cancer — And How To Win It.” (@CliftonLeaf)

Dr. Edward Benz, president of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and professor of medicine, pathology and pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.

Interview Highlights

Dr. Jonathan LaPook on the new recommendations about overdiagnosis and cancer terminology:

There’s no doubt that screening for cancer has saved a lot of lives. The problem is with all these tests that we’re doing, you pick up a lot of abnormalities that turn out they’re never going to hurt the person. And yet we go ahead and do all sorts of testing and procedures on them.

They [the researchers making the recommendations] give an example of breast cancer. There’s a type of breast cancer biopsy abnormality called DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ), stage zero breast cancer. They’re saying that this is something, if just left alone like that, it doesn’t harm a woman. But sometimes it goes on to invasive breast cancer and sometimes it doesn’t. And they’re saying let’s get rid of the word “carcinoma.”

And another example is with a kind of abnormal prostate biopsy called high-grade PIN, which is a kind of neoplasia or abnormal tissue growth. And sometimes that can be a precursor to prostate cancer. But even if you do go on to get prostate cancer, most people who get prostate cancer don’t die from it. So they’re saying get rid of the word “neoplasia.”

They’re saying, look, these words are scary — “carcinoma,” “neoplasia,” “cancer” — and they make people so worried that when the doctor says you got this in them, they immediately have a knee-jerk reflex and say, “Listen, get it out. Let’s do a lot of testing and a lot of procedures.” And they’re saying sometimes maybe you’re going to be aggressive, maybe you’re going to do treatment or some middle treatment or maybe — just maybe — the doctor may say to you, “You know something? We’re not quite sure what to do. Let’s just wait and see.”

This is really all about personalized medicine, and the one size does not fit all. And you really have to be able to be willing as a doctor to take the time — and, by the way, I don’t think there’s enough time these days that we give to our patients — to go through all this complicated thinking and the algorithms and explains what the risks and benefits are.

In 1971, President Nixon declared a war on cancer, but Clifton Leaf said we’re losing it:

I think you have to reframe the question from looking for cures to what the burden of cancer is … We’ve got all these people getting cancer or being diagnosed with cancer and there’s a treatment associated with that.

We have, as you mentioned, nearly 600,000 Americans dying of cancer each year. We have 1.7 million Americans being diagnosed with cancer, and that number has gone up three times faster than the population since we began this war.

There’s a burden associated with that … it’s the treatment, it’s the cost of that treatment, it’s the lost work, the wages, everything associated, the emotional/spiritual burden of being diagnosed with cancer. It comes with a lot of baggage. Anyone who has heard that diagnosis carries — whether they’re called cured or not — they carry it for the rest of their lives.

We’re losing the war because the burden of cancer has gone up every way you can measure it. As you say, the number of people who are dying is close to 600,000 — that number, the raw number, is going up year after year after year. The number of people getting it is going up. What we’re spending on this war. It’s more of a threat to the nation, to our public health, than it was when President Nixon declared that war on this disease.

Dr. Edward Benz on research funding and young scientists:

I come down somewhat more optimistic about the trajectory of where things are going in the last few years, in particular, both with respect to what we’re learning about cancer, how we’re applying it and how we’re going about supporting it … I’ve begun to see changes … Some of it within major funder of federal research, which is the National Cancer Institute, but the NIH in general — [they] have done a lot of self-examination of the peer review process, have tried to find ways to encourage high risk, high rewards research, to focus much more on potential impact, recognizing — remember — you can’t predict serendipity and you can’t predict innovation … We need better ways to provide more support, security, predictably for career growth of our younger scientists. Medical training and Ph.D. training is taking longer and longer, so people are already older when when they’re getting into their training. The process of getting funded is slower still, so they’re very old when they get their first grant … People are older getting funded now than when some people were when they did their Nobel Prize work.

Benz on the future of cancer research:

The ultimate goal still has to remain that you could cure these cancers. The realistic goal is that will be true with some, and it will come with time or it will come with a great insight. But for most cancers, recognizing that typically they occur increasingly in older people with other medical problems, I think that you’ll find that the progress over the next couple of decades is better and better ways to hold off the cancer being the cause of your death, so that you can live out the rest of your life, in effect — as is often true with people’s prostate cancer: die with the cancer not of it. Even though we can’t eradicate it from your body, it will not be something that harms you.

Leaf on thinking about cancer as a process, in the same way we think about heart disease:

Cancer as a process, not as a disease or state of being. And this is what we really have to fundamentally think of it as like heart disease, at least in this one respect. We don’t say that heart disease starts with the heart attack … we say it’s a long, dynamic, evolving process. And we look for biomarkers along the way: hypertension, high cholesterol, all of these things we can look at and say this is a process. We can intervene in that process. And through that strategy we’ve had one of the most successful interventions in public health of all time. We’ve reduced the death rate from heart disease in the last 50 years by 60 percent. In raw numbers, there are fewer people dying of heart disease today than there were in 1970, even though we have 100 million more people in the country.

Benz on how to prevent cancer:

Prevention, or detection at the earliest stages, is ultimately the best way to be sure you don’t die of cancer or suffer from it. Getting there is a real challenge. But I can tell you: If you want to get rid of about one-third of cancer deaths worldwide, ban tobacco, ban tanning parlors, use sunscreen and — one very important one we could be doing now and we’re not — is vaccinate everybody against HPV that causes cervical cancer, less of a problem in the West, but one of the major causes of cancer mortality worldwide.

Leaf on the HPV vaccine and colonoscopies:

We know that certain strains of HPV increase the likelihood of causing cancers to develop in the uterine cervix. That’s one very clear way where we can take a vaccine, which is a lot of bang for the buck.

We also didn’t talk enough about colonoscopies … if you want to talk about great successes in cancer, it’s not coming from medicines with colorectal cancer. It’s fighting those pre-invasive lesions, those pre-neoplastic lesions called polyps that you can remove in a colonscopy and they can’t later become a cancer.

Book Excerpt

Excerpted from THE TRUTH IN SMALL DOSES by Clifton Leaf. Copyright © 2013 by Clifton Leaf. Excerpted with permission of Simon & Schuster, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Prologue: How Did We Get Here?

Book jacket for "The Truth In Small Doses" by Clifton Leaf. (Courtesy of Simon & Schuster)

(Courtesy of Simon & Schuster)

Two years before I came to believe that we were losing the “war on cancer,” I had concluded that we were on the brink of victory. The notion had spun out of an extraordinary conversation I’d had in February 2002 with Daniel Vasella, then the chief executive officer of the Swiss pharmaceutical firm Novartis. He was in New York for the World Economic Forum, the annual gathering of business titans, statesmen, movie stars, and savants traditionally held in Davos, a resort town tucked high in the Swiss Alps. But this particular winter, the first after 9/11, the gathering had moved to midtown Manhattan, and the forty-eight-year-old Vasella had settled into the lobby bar at the St. Regis Hotel for a string of interviews with the business press.

I was reluctant to join the line. It was late in the day, and I was sure I was in for a lengthy pitch on some revolutionary age-spot cream then in clinical trials, or a rundown of the company’s ever-expanding portfolio of medicines. I was then an editor at Fortune and oversaw the magazine’s investing coverage, among other things, so such conversations were common.

But this time the phrase drug pipeline was not uttered once. Nor was revenue stream. Nor share price. Vasella hardly mentioned his company at all.

Instead, he spoke about the anguish caused by endemic malaria, the soaring cost of prescription drugs, and the preventable diseases still plaguing half the world. His industry, he said with surprising candor, had not done enough to address these crises. He spoke of the challenges of innovation in a big corporation and of dismantling the walls of ancient corporate fiefdoms. (Vasella had helped engineer, in 1996, the merger of two century-old Swiss chemical companies, Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy, and had become CEO of the newly formed Novartis.)

As the conversation continued in the dim light of the hotel bar, the subjects grew more personal and raw, and dotted lines between our histories emerged. Vasella spoke of his older sister Ursula’s battle with Hodgkin’s disease, a cancer of the lymph system, and of watching her waste away during a grueling three-year fight. Vasella was ten at the time of her death; she was eighteen.

I too had struggled with Hodgkin’s (at age fifteen), but had survived thanks to a unique chemotherapy regimen that had been pioneered at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) a decade or so prior to my diagnosis in 1978. The discovery had, unfortunately, come a few years too late to save young Ursula.

An uncannier connection was Vasella’s work in the late 1980s. In his first managerial job at a pharmaceutical company, he was responsible for an obscure injectable drug, somatostatin, that was shown to relieve some of the worst symptoms of carcinoid syndrome, a rare intestinal cancer. My mother had been one of the few people in the world to rely on the drug, which had alleviated some of the daily diarrhea and near-constant skin flushing that made her disease so debilitating. Like Vasella’s sister, she would eventually succumb to her cancer, in 1995.

Vasella had been surrounded by illness and tragedy as a child. At the age of five, his asthma grew so severe during the summer months that his parents sent him to live on a farm in the mountains, away from the family. When he was eight, a bout with tuberculosis, followed by meningitis, forced him to spend a full year in a hospital and sanatorium. Five years later his father, a history professor, died of complications from surgery. Then a second sister died as well, from a car accident.

Vasella related only a tiny portion of this story as we sat with our Scotches in the hotel bar.

He had gone to medical school, received his degree, and practiced medicine in Bern, Switzerland, before giving it up for a junior marketing position at Sandoz. Six years later he was in the corner office. Among the chief executives of major drug companies, Vasella was the only physician, the only one who had ever taken care of patients.

A few journalists would later venture that it was this clinically trained eye that helped him see the vast potential of the leukemia drug called Gleevec, which many oncologists were then hailing as a genuine breakthrough and as a model for cancer therapy in the generation to come.

Others involved in the drug’s development would give Vasella far less credit. I knew none of this at the time.

What I did know, what I could hear in our first conversation, was how Vasella spoke of the drug, which had been approved by the Food and Drug Administration just nine months earlier. He spoke the way a firsttime parent speaks about his child’s first recital.

Gleevec worked, he explained, in a radically new way: by homing in on a “mutant” protein found in the white blood cells of patients with an uncommon form of leukemia. This aberrant protein, created as the result of a genetic glitch, relayed instructions that sent those white blood cells into a continual replicative loop. They divided and divided until eventually they crowded out every other type of cell in the blood, and the patient died. Novartis’s remarkable molecule blocked that protein from passing along its deadly message. And it was so precisely aimed that, even as it shut down the mutants, it spared the healthy cells around them. (Traditional chemotherapy, by contrast, is a sledgehammer: it decimates many normal cells as it strikes the malignant.)

Gleevec, said Vasella, had established the principle of targeted cancer therapy. Now it was only a matter of time until scientists designed molecules to disable the wayward signaling mechanisms central to every cancer.

From Tom’s Reading List

The Boston Globe: Scientists’ Report Cites Need To Redefine Cancer: “A group of scientists advising the nation’s premier cancer research institution has recommended sweeping changes in the approach to cancer detection and treatment, including changes in the very definition of cancer and eliminating the word entirely from some diagnoses.”

The New Yorker: World War Cancer [BOOK REVIEW]: “The title comes from a 1959 pamphlet that tells doctors to trickle out information to cancer-stricken patients, since most of them ‘couldn’t stand’ to know the truth: the disease would kill them and there was little that could be done about it. Today, draped in ribbons of every hue, blinded by the promises of targeted therapies and antioxidants, we have, according to Leaf, neglected a basic truth: ‘the cancer problem is, in reality, as formidable a challenge as ever.’” (Also see: The T-Cell Army)

The Journal of the American Medical Association: Overdiagnosis And Overtreatment In Cancer: An Opportunity For Improvement: “The word ‘cancer’ often invokes the specter of an inexorably lethal process; however, cancers are heterogeneous and can follow multiple paths, not all of which progress to metastases and death, and include indolent disease that causes no harm during the patient’s lifetime. Better biology alone can explain better outcomes. Although this complexity complicates the goal of early diagnosis, its recognition provides an opportunity to adapt cancer screening with a focus on identifying and treating those conditions most likely associated with morbidity and mortality.”

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Wm_James_from_Missouri

    Would someone care to guess how many man-hours have been put in on a search for a cure, how many dollars , worldwide ?

    • John Cedar

      I prefer the term “labor-hours”.

  • Ed75

    There seems to be a new class of illnesses called ‘mitochondrial diseases’. Do they relate to cancer research?

    • brettearle

      I believe that many cellular reactions go on, about which we don’t yet understand.

      That would include how mitochondria are aberrant in their biochemical reactions.

  • Tom

    Fruit diet cures cancer. 3 months. You’re cured. (chicken or something once a week if you feel the need, is fine.)

    The cancer industry doesn’t want you to know this, and the medical professionals are brain-washed into thinking only they have the answers. They need the research dollars which are only given to research into magic pills and mainstream snake-oil cures.

    If they had any morality, the NIH should pay for major studies on fruit diet and cancer. Even a short fruit diet will show a reduction in cancer.

    • brettearle

      Do you have any idea how many people–both in and out of Medicine–have made claims, like yours–whether it’s nuts or flaxseed oil or breathing helium.

      If you’re claims were true, for most people, Dana Farber would close down.

      • Tom

        It is documented science that a diet rich in fruit significantly and dramaitcally reduces the risk of cancer. This is well documented science. So how is it crazy to take the next logical step?
        There is also a mass of science that shows that the fibres and cleansing aspects of fruit, are not only better for you than other foods, but also help to cleanse the body, The blinkered adherence to the unproven methods of chemotherpy etc., is just blind ignorance. Chemotherapy is documented to be no better than a placebo effect. In other, useless

        The aggressive reactions people give to anyone using logic, instead of mainstream stupidity, is always the same.

        A diet rich in fruit and veg. is established in research to reduce risk for cancer. Whenever any scientist parses it further, they add that fruit is the most effective of the fruit and veg diet. Go ask any doctor, that if what I say is not true.

        So, now that you have the evidence, that a diet rich in fruit significantly reduces the risk of cancer, and is proven in many research studies, are you prepared to think for a moment: “Hey, maybe the natural extension of that PROVEN research, is to take it one step further, and make most of your diet fruit, in order to CURE cancer.”
        Its only logical, based on published science.

        The NIH should be funding such studies based on that already published research, to see if such a diet can go one step further (fruit only, with once a week chicken, or something if you feel the need) study it time and time again, and you will find that the theory is proven correct.

        • brettearle

          I wasn’t trying to claim that you were a charlatan.

          But what I am saying is that curing cancer and preventing cancer is much more complex than any one specific approach.

          EVEN if that approach is sometimes effective or sometimes quite effective.

          You are trying to imply–on one level–that ALL we have to do is to be DISCIPLINED about it.

          And I don’t think it works that way.

          And I think that some MDs–who do not seek profit–would, in some way, agree with my sentiments.

          I don’t believe I heard the Dana Farber CEO say, today, “FRUIT, FRUIT, eat FRUIT….and all your abnormal tissue- growth problems will be solved.”

  • 228929292AABBB

    There has been no progress on cancer. If you look at the extremely modest reduction in cancer rates and deaths, and adjust it for the fact that so many fewer people smoke now, and adjust it for the fact many of those cancers would have been survived untreated, nothing is happening. Think of what could have been done about malaria with the same money. Why is this not a scandal, or at least acknowledged? For the usual reason in America – there’s too much money in the industry now, and it’s spread across constituencies. From university research (democrat) through pharmaceutical millions (republican) to the pink mafia (untouchable socially – what kind of monster would come out against this!) there are two currently unstoppable diseases in America – cancer, and the cancer-industrial complex. I hope someday they are both gone, though I admit to being sensitive about this issue because my horrible sixth grade english teacher made us read Eric.

    • Don_B1

      What is your definition of “progress”?

      Examples of progress:

      Death (within 5 years) from lung cancer is way down from what it was years ago.

      Death from at least one form of colon cancer has been almost completely stopped.

      But the biggest progress should come from widely adopting the preventive measures advocated by the guest.

  • creaker

    Funny – so adults are now going to get diagnosed with boo-boos and ouches?

    By all means – find the best treatment. But give us the information. Don’t hide it from us.

  • creaker

    The current cancer industry is very profitable – unless there is hope they can find a cure more profitable than how they are currently treating it, it’s probably not going to happen.

  • brettearle

    Why isn’t the guest speaking of how the morbidity of some cancer rates is going down?

  • brettearle

    Cancer may be a Nosology: An umbrella of diseases.

    • Don_B1

      I think scientists have said that a lot.

      Cancer is a mutation of one or more of many genes which leads to the unrestrained growth of the cells with that mutation. Many times the individual’s autoimmune system can kill those cells before the number exceeds some critical mass and the “cancer” does not kill the individual.

  • joyisaboynamedmurphy

    I would like a discussion on the incredible use of pesticides in the lawn care industry, agriculture etc. so many children and pets are dying of lymphoma at a young age. We are looking at treating cancer but we cover our food, our property etc with these AGENT orange like chemicals with no regulation. Roundup
    etc. People in the fields in South America accept dying of cancer with the spraying that is happening. How are we able to turn our head away from this as a major cause of cancer.

    • brettearle

      Google doesn’t tell you that this isn’t being taken seriously by some sections of Oncological Research?

      • anamaria23

        Maybe so, but Roundup has been banned for some time in parts of Canada and in some countries. Meanwhile the use of it here is increasing dramatically, though it contains glyphosate found in agent orange.
        At least one doctor I know of warns against it.

    • 2Gary2

      but my yard looks so good…

    • R. West

      Yes. We need this kind of research.

  • brettearle

    The root of Cancer may be so biochemically specific that it may not, as yet, been specifically identified.

    Or it may be so complex, that some biochemical reactions (as yet undetected) go awry simultaneously–without an actual aberrant enzyme or anti-body that can be specifically identified.

  • brettearle

    There should always be money available for oncological research that thinks outside of the box–even if it seems quixotic.

  • Yar

    Isn’t the whole model of Western Medicine part of the problem? We layer on complications of pills and surgery, while ignoring exercise, sleep, diet and social involvement.

    • Don_B1

      From the knowledge that cancers have been occurring since before the arrival of Western Medicine, I would give the chemical environment that surrounds us a lot more of the blame for the increased rates of various cancers.

    • Sy2502

      If you ever get diagnosed with cancer (we all hope not), you are welcome to “sleep it off”. Me, I’ll go to a doctor if it’s all the same with you.

    • BostonDad

      Sorry, no, CANCER is the problem ! Oncologists and other Drs. encourage patients to live a healthy life style and take necessary treatments when inevitable. The pendulum is swinging away from over-treatment to ‘smart-treatment’.

  • AD

    From what I have heard so far, this is the same kind of misinformation that keeps people from doing their own research and discovering alternative treatments like vegan diets, juicing, exercise, detoxing, Vit C, etc. that DO CURE!

    • Sy2502

      You forgot snake oil.

  • ThirdWayForward

    Cliff Leaf is absolutely right about the research system — if you talk to researchers, it’s clear that the funding and incentive systems are broken. No research that is in any way controversial or non-incremental can be funded by the present system. Part of this is because only present grant recipients sit on review panels — it’s a system that reinforces itself. Part of it is also that when funding probabilities get below 20%, and all of the contending proposals are scientifically strong, the decision to fund or not to fund becomes a social decision — who is best connected to the panel — who knows who, what conferences they attend, which journals they publish in, where they are, etc etc etc. If the panelists don’t know you, you won’t get funded. If one reviewer is less than “enthusiastic” about the proposal, it won’t fly.

    We need to be able to “fund outside the box”, both in terms of approaches/theories and institutions.

    We think that there needs to be a 50/50 split between applied (translational) and basic research. Disease-centered research is part of the mix, but at present, almost everything needs to be “translational”, which means that the long-range, basic science gets short-shrifted. Within both categories there needs to be some part of funding, perhaps 10-15% devoted to highly innovative/risky/controversial proposals.

    Complacency is our biggest enemy. It takes 5 years to get an idea funded, and another decade for implementation if the research pans out. There is no reason that one should need a year just to get an answer about a proposal to the NIH. Meanwhile millions of people are dying. If we had fought WW II this way, we would have lost.

    The worst parts of it are that in order to stay in the game, researchers think more about what the people on the panels will think rather than what is going on in the organism.

    The deeper you are in the NIH system, the less you want to think about anything that cannot get funded. Pretty soon the whole culture is anti-theoretical, very risk-averse,and very unwilling to entertain integrative and/or controversial hypotheses. Free thinking in biomedical science will get you unfunded, because you will think heterodox thoughts that will cause your opinions to diverge from the mainstream establishments on the panels.

    • CAYdenberg

      The best solution would be to end the investigator-driven grant as we know it, identify 10-12 really big problems that need to be solved and assemble teams of established labs to tackle them.
      Increasing federal funding won’t do anything at this point, the pyramid was doomed to collapse. Thanks to the stimulus we were able to keep going for a couple of years past the 2008 crisis, but in another couple of years there will be biology PhDs driving cabs and working at Starbucks.

      • ThirdWayForward

        I think formulating 10-12 fundamental scientific problems that need solving is a good idea — it would give some direction to our research. Right now if you look at most NIH institute mission statements, they are all about developing new techniques, not about answering particular scientific questions.

        However, I think what would happen if investigator-initiated research were eliminated is that the power institutions and players would then have a complete monopoly on defining what problems are worth studying and who should do it. They already dominate the scene to a high degree.

        For that reason, we need some fraction of the research budgets (say 10%) to be open to new ideas, paradigms, people. Science progresses fastest when there is diversity of perspective and lively interchange and debate of ideas — that’s how theories are tested, refined, and reformulated. If you get rid of all the small scientists, and put everyone into social hierarchies (large labs, centers), you eliminate from the system those people who can think and act critically.

  • originalname37

    I am a computer scientist in the biomedical field (I analyze microarrays every day). I can tell you exactly why there isn’t standardization of the tools and the data: competition. The space program didn’t have multiple researchers fighting for funding and companies fighting for capital. Under the competitive model in which we work, there is plenty of motivation to share results, far less motivation to share tools.

    • CAYdenberg

      I’d go even further: there’s only motivation to share conclusions. If you have to, you can include your raw data as a supplemental excel spreadsheet that another researcher would have to write code to make any sense of. No one really checks each others’ work, certainly there’s no one standard that allows us to pull raw data and re-analyze it.

  • nontoxicissexy

    Finally! A mention of *prevention* and the toxic chemicals linked to cancer and endocrine disruption (in turn linked to cancer) that we’re inundated with on a daily basis. Nice job, caller.

    • Jonathan

      “Environmental factors” not only include chemicals, but also lifestyle factors. The link between bras and breast cancer has been dismissed and ridiculed, but never tested (and certainly not disproved.) This article shows how plausible the theory is: http://www.isisboston.com/assets/PDF-Files/Bras-and-Breast-Cancer.pdf

      I’ll briefly quote an excerpt:

      “We went to Fiji, where half the population is bra-free. We approached the Health Ministry and asked for their assistance. Once we told them our theory, they exclaimed, “That explains why our working women are now getting breast cancer! They are the ones who wear bras!” Over the next few months we went from village to village and obtained over 20 case histories of breast cancer. All were in women who wore bras. We found that, given women from the same village (genetically related), with the same diet, the ones who developed breast cancer were the ones who wore bras.”

      • Taffyoglen

        How do you explain MEN who get breast ca.

        • Jonathan

          For the same reason that non-smokers get lung cancer. There are many factors leading to breast cancer, but bras are the most important. When women stop wearing bras, female breast cancer will be as rare as male.

          • Taffyoglen

            So I take it you had a nice time in Fiji.
            Your argument is laughable. There are so many factors determining who gets cancer.
            The choice of personal underwear is not one of them. That myth has been debunked! Obviously, wearing anything tight and ill fitting will cause restriction and irritation eventually. Clots are more a risk factor than cancer.

            This speaks more to a sexist view of women and their evolving role in society.
            I hazard a guess that the males in Fiji are feeling a little threatened? Do you seriously believe this or have you just put this out for a laugh?

          • Jonathan

            Yes, I believe it. No, I didn’t go to Fiji. That was Sydney Ross Singer, who wrote the book. The hypothesis has not been debunked. Just dismissed and ridiculed, like all medical breakthroughs that expose conventional incompetence. Same thing happened to Ignaz Semmelweis and Barry Marshall, before they were eventually vindicated. (Look them up in wikipedia.) Here are seven case studies on relief of breast pain and fibrocystic breast disease by avoiding bras: http://all-natural.com/fibrocys.html

          • Taffyoglen

            FBD is not cancer.
            Bras do not cause genetic changes.

          • Jonathan

            I cited those case studies to show one more example of the bra’s pernicious effects and to show the blindness of the medical profession to this health hazard. Malignant mutations are the result of chronic inflammation. Inflammation can have many sources. Bras trap the toxic waste products of cellular metabolism, triggering the immune response known as inflammation.

          • Taffyoglen

            Claims that underwire bras compress the lymphatic system of the breast, causing toxins to accumulate and cause breast cancer, have been widely debunked as unscientific. The consensus is that neither the type of bra you wear nor the tightness of your underwear or other clothing has any connection to breast cancer risk.
            If it were true, how come the prostate, testicular or ovarian cancer isn’t considered to be caused by underwear?
            Did you know animlas get breast cancer…I don’t see too many apes, cats and dogs wearing bras.
            Unfortunately you views are those from someone who only reads and believes pseudo science from the internet.
            Superficial inflammation can not cause genetic or hereditary changes. Let me know if this Fiji theory ever makes to any reputable cancer conference though.
            Good bye.

          • Jonathan

            Animals also get lung cancer, so you may as well dismiss the carcinogenic effects of smoking. Regarding your devotion to “medical consensus” I’ve already mentioned several examples of its poor track record. In addition, I will add their decades-long refusal to acknowledge the health hazards of smoking. To make one’s health decisions based on “medical consensus” is the height of folly.

          • Jonathan

            This site on the history of lung cancer is worth reading.

            http://toxsci.oxfordjournals.org/content/64/1/4.full . Here is an excerpt:

            “The link between the smoking of cigarettes and lung cancer began to be suspected by clinicians in the 1930s when they noted the increase of this “unusual” disease. Publications began to appear and about 2 decades later the role of smoking as causative agent had been firmly established. A case control study was published in 1940 in Germany and its author flatly stated that “the extraordinary rise in tobacco use was the single most important cause of the rising incidence of lung cancer” (Müller, 1940). At this time, lung cancer had become the second most frequent cause of cancer death …. In 1943, the German Institute for Tobacco Hazards Research disclosed a study which found that among 109 lung cancer cases only 3 were nonsmokers, a proportion much lower than in the control group. In the 1950s Doll and Hill in England and Cuyler Hammond and Ernest Wynder in the U.S. provided further evidence for a causal association between smoking and lung cancer. Yet, it took a long time until the truth was fully accepted. Smokers, including many physicians, who enjoyed cigarettes could or would not want to imagine or refused to believe that the habit (addiction would be more appropriate) was detrimental to their health….In the following decades, smoking continued to be “enjoyed” by hundreds of thousands until, after the first report of the Surgeon General in 1964, public awareness woke up and smoking became recognized as the hazard it is.”

    • Sy2502

      Heredity is still the most important risk factor in most cancers. It’s easy to point the finger to the low hanging fruit, but I’d rather tackle the REAL problem, not the emotionally satisfying one.

  • ThirdWayForward

    Cancers are the failure modes of basic cellular growth processes that are ongoing throughout life. We need to understand how organisms work on a very basic level in order to understand why cancers occur.

    Give basic scientists the power to think for themselves, and give them the resources and job security to tackle hard, long-range, fundamental questions, and to consider alternative theories.

    On the clinical side, we need to allow terminally-ill patients a great deal of freedom in choosing to engage in unproven therapies — it is their lives and theirs alone, and it should be their choice, not the choice of some panel of bioethicists. If I had terminal cancer, I would want to fight it using all available means, and the knowledge gained for others from that struggle would give my ordeal meaning. In the current bioethics climate, many organ transplants, were they not already proven “safe”, would not be allowed at all.

    Complacency is our biggest enemy.
    Time is our limiting resource.

    • Taffyoglen

      “…we need to allow terminally-ill patients a great deal of freedom in choosing to engage in unproven therapies — it is their lives and theirs alone, and it should be their choice, not the choice of some panel of bioethicists.”
      The potential for any whack job to come up with a theory and have someone insist that they have a right to it would bankrupt the health care system. Who would pay for these treatments, and how many is too many?
      Why should any physician or hospital take on this responsibility?

      • ThirdWayForward

        I’m not suggesting that the health care system foot the bill for unproven, experimental treatments, only that, if the terminal patient wants to go that route, they be allowed to do so. For those people facing death, the riskiness of a procedure should not be an absolute barrier to using it.

        Often there are treatments out there that could be funded through either private or public means that are deemed too risky by medical ethics boards. For example, if pioneering work in heart transplants had not been done decades ago, we think it would be impossible to do that work today under the tight control of medical ethics boards. It’s probably true for open heart surgery and may be the case for some radical cancer therapies as well.

        Not only were the doctors pioneers, but also the patients who volunteered for the experimental surgery. Those living today with transplanted hearts owe them some gratitude, much as we owe a debt of gratitude to those who have died (in wars, fighting fires, keeping the peace) on our behalf.

        Each of us will die someday, that is a certainty. Nobody gets out alive, but we can live in a manner that makes life better for those who succeed us.

        When death from disease is imminent, I see absolutely no reason to restrict how a person chooses to use his or her body. Bioethicists should not be restricting what individuals can do with their own bodies. Bioethicists should (and they do) ensure that whatever is done is done with informed consent — that should be their proper role, not restricting what consenting parties can choose when it comes to medical intervention.

        We are far too accepting of disease, and this makes the research and medical practice much more plodding and incremental than it could or should be.

        911 killed 4000 Americans and we mobilized the country, started 2 wars, and consequently spent $1.5 trillion in response. Cancer alone kills 600,000 Americans every year, and the entire NIH budget for all diseases is about $30 billion/year. The annual NIH budget is < 1/20th that of the military. Do these priorities sound in the least bit sane?

        • Taffyoglen

          Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. You don’t have any answers here. The point of research is to answer these questions. Your beef with bioethicists is routed somewhere else, obviously.

          We have evolved NOT to exclude anyone from clinical research. It’s actually a major mandate in human research. .
          You mentioned the cardiac pioneers: however, your suggestion that they were somehow mavericks and acted without regard for ethics is ridiculous. I’m sure DeBakey, Barnard et al would correct you on this. Sure some rules have changed because of MISTAKES that were made…Thank you bioethicists!
          AIDS epidemic: we now have antiviral ‘cocktails’ treatments, however, not without concerns. Secondary heme malignancies caused by treatments are rearing their head. Had we blindly treated people without concern for side effects, both short and long term 20-30 years ago, we would no doubt have a larger unmitigated disaster on our hands (and conscience)!
          You suggest that private and public funds pay for these treatments…will they also pay for the ER visits caused by the treatments or the long term care?

          • ThirdWayForward

            No, I don’t have any answers– mine is completely a statement about values.

            I was not implying at all that the early heart transplant surgeons were mavericks acting without regard to ethics (their motives, good or bad, don’t matter here), only that today’s system would treat them that way and not allow their pioneering experiments to go forward, and as a result we might not have some of the medical technologies that we have.

            Yes, we need watchdogs in the system, but control always should reside in the hands of those with the disease. There is a penalty we pay for being overcautious in these situations.

            I’m not at all suggesting that the side effects, actual or potential, be ignored — the patient always needs to have informed consent, but once it is clear that this has been achieved to whatever degree is reasonably possible, then the terminal patient’s desire to proceed should not be blocked because an institutional board thinks it might be too risky.

            I don’t know the situation re: heme malignancies – each of us needs to take our best bets at the time for our own situation.

            I was speaking solely about terminally-ill patients, who should have an absolute right to try any medical treatment that they see fit to try. Here, there is no long term care unless their treatments succeed, against the odds.

  • jjnscat3

    With breast cancer they say that treatment is better than 40 years ago. Well, better than what? They still mutilate, poison and burn women. Dr. Susan Love is doing research in finding the CAUSE of cancer, possibly a virus, inspired by the HPV vaccination which not only prevents human papilloma virus, but prevents cervical cancer.

    The academia peer review method is despicable in that it is preventing innovative and intuitive thought as to finding the cause of cancer. Researchers need money and papers published so they keep repeating the same model of research getting nowhere.

    Drug companies make huge profits from selling cancer drugs.

    • Sy2502

      40 years ago people died of breast cancer. It was a death sentence. Would you prefer to go back to that?

      Also could you elaborate on your assertion that “The academia peer review method is despicable in that it is preventing innovative and intuitive thought as to finding the cause of cancer.”? Actual supporting evidence would be appreciated.

      • jjnscat3

        If you actually listened to the effing show today, you would know.. also see above with my sentence beginning “researchers” They need to collaborate. That is how the HPV vaccine was invented

        • Sy2502

          Sounds like you are inordinately upset about this. Maybe you should lay down for a bit until you calm down, then resume the conversation?

  • Sy2502

    Without your “breasts hacked off, drinking the anti-freeze chemo, and being zapped by extensive so-called “targeted” radiation treatments” you’d be dead. Would you prefer that?

    • R. West

      Wow. That is harsh.

      • Don_B1

        It probably was not the most delicate way to say it, but oncologists have long acknowledged that, while their existing treatments often set the stage for new cancers to develop, they were fighting with limited tools due to limited knowledge, and that living to fight another day was paramount in their approach.

  • jjnscat3

    As a survivor, I’m with you! There is no incentive for the cancer community to find the cause, so they don’t. They don’t collaborate as academia is competitive.

    • Don_B1

      There might not be an immediate financial incentive for the “industry as a whole,” but as scientists they have a need to understand how the animal (human, in these cases) body works and how cures can be found.

      Also, there IS the promise of substantial reward to finding new more successful treatments. And that, along with the satisfaction of discovering how things work, is what drives individuals and groups (which is how most discoveries are found these days) to work on learning the mechanisms of cancer.

  • jjnscat3

    By the way, Frustrated, there is some interesting peer reviewed research that shows that eating button mushrooms and drinking green tea can help prevent recurrence.

  • BostonDad

    I grieve for your losses and wish you the best. Having seen friends and relatives go through the pain and indignities of current therapies, I understand your frustration. But believe me, there are personal, professional, and financial incentives to ‘curing cancer’ for those involved. We are all trying our best despite limited resources that the sequester is exacerbating and trying hard to delay us and ironically maintaining the unsustainable status quo. Please encourage your Congress people to push this effort, even at the expense of Defense ‘pork’ !

  • BostonDad

    I expect the book has been updated as well as expanded from the original full length Fortune article. But while he makes many good points, which have often been made by others in more isolated and maybe less coherent contexts, there is a lot more going on in cancer research on many better and better (less toxic, more efficacious) treatments coming along. Different organ cancers have different causes and we now see some common pathways across subsets of different cancer types, so the same drug may work across tumor types for those with the specific targeted treatment. It is hard to be patient, but there will be more cures for more types and stages of cancers every few years. Spending less on cancer and other major diseases than many other public military or civilian programs IS holding these treatments back and across the board government spending cuts make this worse ! Speak out about that !

  • Tom

    It is documented science that a diet rich in fruit significantly and
    dramatically reduces the risk of cancer. This is well documented
    There is also a mass of science that shows that the fibres and cleansing aspects of fruit, are not only better for you than other foods, but also help to cleanse the body, The blinkered adherence to the unproven methods of chemotherpy etc., is just blind ignorance. Chemotherapy is documented to be no better than a placebo effect. In other words, useless.

    The aggressive reactions people give to anyone using logic, instead of mainstream stupidity, is always the same.

    A diet rich in fruit and veg. is established in research to reduce
    risk for cancer. Whenever any scientist parses it further, they add that fruit is the most effective of the fruit and veg diet. Go ask any doctor, that if what I say is not true.

    So, now wet you have the evidence, that a diet rich in fruit
    significantly reduces the risk of cancer, and is proven in many research studies, are you prepared to think for a moment: “Hey, maybe the natural extension of that PROVEN research, is to take it one step further, and make most of your diet fruit, in order to CURE cancer.”
    Its only logical, based on published science.

    The NIH should be funding such studies based on that already
    published research, to see if such a diet can go one step further (fruit only, with once a week chicken, or something if you feel the need) study it time and time again, and you will find that the theory (based on a logical deduction from previous published research is proven correct. A properly conducted pilot study will prove the point, and more studies will verify it.

    • JESam

      so do it, follow your diet, see what happens..just don’t be too judgmental…

  • mrtwilight23

    Wow. No mention of the ketogenic diet.

  • 2Gary2

    With these f-ing republicans cutting every program in order to give the rich tax cuts its no wonder we have not found a cure.

    We should be taxing the wealthy to keep us all healthy.

  • 2Gary2

    but hey–my lawn looks so good with no weeds!

    • Don_B1

      And your body will look so good with the ravages of cancer.

      [Sarcasm continued?]

      • 2Gary2

        of course I am being sarcastic!

        I speak very fluent sarcasm.

  • JESam

    There is no one “cancer” to fight. That’s a simplification that is impossible to address. No one in the medical field with any sense is trying to eradicate or “cure” cancer. It’s not comparable to small pox. Stop lumping all cancers in one big box. The news media is perpetuating an already out of control myth. We can’t eradicate high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease, either. Some or most of this is genetically determined. Some of this is over diagnosed.
    The WAR ON CANCER raises money for fundraisers and non- profits but is meaningless otherwise.You are all just marketing yourselves.

  • JESam


    • JESam

      and btw no one doctor has time to discuss anything in detail with patients when healthcare is run by corporate business organizations and the government, and when pharmaceutical companies advertize gloom, doom, and alarm.
      and TOM why do we care what Nixon said ?? he wasn’t a doctor just a politician …this is a huge moot point and you are just sensationalizing your show as usual…

  • Louisedw

    Perhaps we need to form some sort of relationship to cancer that is not so adversarial and recognizes it as a force of nature
    and a response to our longer longevity, the fact that because of cancer
    prevention and treatment we survive to conceive children that carry
    forward our genetic vulnerability to cancer, and also that we now live
    in a soup of radiation and toxins and simply cannot expect our bodies
    to resist the effects of that sort of exposure, especially if we live to older ages. We can look at it as a sort of shadow that grows larger in direct relationship to our striving to defeat death. Everything in the world exists in a delicate balance and Nature will maintain the the balance between life and death one way or the other.
    I have decided to accept and befriend my cancer, work with various
    treatments to survive as I may but otherwise just accept its role in my
    life and perhaps in my death as it is probably just a likely i will die
    of a heart attack or accident. It is not “foreign” … cancer cells are rather ubiquitous and follow various pathways in their development that are not predictable. So I suggest, relax and live life in the moment and to the fullest.

  • fun bobby

    the cure for cancer is right here:


  • wbsurfver

    there’s a ton of money to be made with therapies that dont work but that cost a fortune like kemo. Those doctors that would give their right arm for a cure are surely well paid to doll out this stuff. The establishment and media has been hard at work at war with alt medicine and playing down lifestyle and environmental factors. When people ask me for donations to fight cancer, I tell them I don’t believe they want to really cure cancer and neither will they. The comment about the researcher saying it would be useless to become a cancer researcher seemed very telling. The guest here recommends vacinations and colonoscopies, what else is new, same old nonsense

Sep 16, 2014
Jasmin Torres helps classmate Brianna Rameles with a worksheet at the Diloreto Magnet School in New Britain, Conn., Wednesday Feb. 22, 2012. (AP/Charles Krupa)

More parents are “red-shirting” their children in kindergarten—holding them back for a year, hoping they’ll have an edge. Does it work? We look.

Sep 16, 2014
From "Rich Hill"

“Rich Hill,” a new documentary on growing up poor, now, in rural America. The dreams and the desperation.

Sep 15, 2014
This Monday, Sept. 27, 2010 file photo shows hikers on the South Kaibab Trail in Grand Canyon National Park, Ariz. (AP/Carson Walker)

Uproar over development plans for the Grand Canyon. We go to the Navajo Nation and the Canyon floor to see what’s at stake.

Sep 15, 2014
In this Thursday, Sep. 11, 2014 photo, Middle Eastern leaders stand together during a family photo with of the Gulf Cooperation Council and regional partners at King Abdulaziz International Airport’s Royal Terminal in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. (AP/Brendan Smialowski, Pool)

President Obama says he will build a coalition of partners in the Middle East to combat ISIS. We’ll do a reality check on who’s really stepping up for what.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Our Week In The Web: September 12, 2014
Friday, Sep 12, 2014

In which you had varied reactions to the prospect of a robotic spouse.

More »
Beverly Gooden on #WhyIStayed
Friday, Sep 12, 2014

Beverly Gooden — who originated the #WhyIStayed hashtag that has taken off across Twitter — joined us today for our discussion on domestic violence.

More »
1 Comment
Tierney Sutton Plays LIVE For On Point
Friday, Sep 5, 2014

We break out Tierney Sutton’s three beautiful live tracks from our broadcast today for your listening pleasure.

More »