11/15/2010 12:00 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Politics of Lung Cancer

On April 22 Senators Dianne Feinstein and Sam Brownback urged the Senate to pass the January 2009 Lung Cancer Mortality Reduction Act. This stated that "lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women, accounting for 28 percent of all cancer deaths." The Act also warned that "two-thirds of nonsmokers diagnosed with lung cancer are women." In her discussion of the Act, Senator Feinstein cited "Out of the Shadows," an April 2010 comprehensive report by the Lung Cancer Alliance and Brigham Women's Hospital.

Of further concern, the death rate for lung cancer in women has increased by 127 percent since 1975, while that for men has decreased by 15 percent. However, of further and unrecognized major concern, is the failure of the "Out of the Shadows" report to recognize that exposures in the home and workplace are also significant causes of lung cancer. This is surprising in view of the fact that the prestigious April 2010 President's Cancer Panel's report detailed concerns on the "strong evidence" of domestic exposures to avoidable causes of lung cancer. These include: pollutants from combustion of coal and fuel oil; carcinogenic pesticides in the home and/or garden; burning household waste; methylene chloride in paint strippers; and emissions from the transportation sector. They also include radon, the radioactive break down product of radium, and the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.

Other well documented causes of lung cancer in non-smoking women include: long-term exposure to spousal side stream tobacco smoke; heavy non-ventilated exposure to cooking fumes; residential exposure to heavy petrol station air pollutants; long term exposure to fine particulate industrial pollutants.

According to the non-profit National Lung Cancer Partnership (NLCP) between corporate and foundation partners, there is significant evidence that "women may be more sensitive than men to the cancer-causing effects of chemicals in cigarettes." The NLCP warned that women are more likely to get a different type of lung cancer than men, technically known as bronchioloalveolar, whose incidence is rising worldwide. The NLCP disturbingly warns that lung cancer research receives minimal support from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), at $1,415 per lung cancer death versus $13,991 per breast cancer death.

As disturbing, is the charge of longstanding abdication of responsibility by the NCI, the primary federal institute explicitly charged by President Nixon in 1971 to fight the war against cancer. This charge clearly prioritizes the allocation of adequate resources to investigate and eliminate avoidable causes of cancer, which clearly include non-smoking causes of lung cancer in women. This is not a reflection of lack of resources. The budget of the NCI has escalated from $200,000 in 1971, to over $5 billion currently. However, while the NCI has a distinguished track record in basic research on cancer treatment, it is paralleled by unawareness of well-documented scientific evidence on cancer prevention.

Samuel S. Epstein, M.D. is professor emeritus of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health; Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition. He is the recipient of the 1998 Right Livelihood Award ("Alternative Nobel Prize"), and the 2005 Albert Schweitzer Golden Grand Medal for International Contributions to Cancer Prevention; former consultant to the Senate Committee on Public Works; and former expert witness for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency. He is author of over 270 scientific articles and 17 books on the causes, prevention, and politics of cancer. These include the award-winning The Politics of Cancer (Sierra Club Books, 1978), and Cancer-Gate: How To Win The Losing Cancer War (Baywood Publishing, 2005).
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