• 13 FEB 06
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    ‘Your Money and Your Life’ : Corruption in the UK cancer establishment

    Following is an article, relevant to the topic of breast cancer, written by Martin Walker and published in The Ecologist in October 2000. (Sent by Eileen O’Conner / Iris Atzmon)

    Iris Atzmon from Israel commented on the Walker article in an earlier message:

    “Eileen O’connor reminded me of the following article -a fantastic exposure-article that was first published in “the ecologist” on the 22/9/2000 – when she wrote about Swerdlow’s conflict of interests- being both at the ICNIRP and as the British cancer charities researcher. This article shows why there is no conflict between the two. Unfortunately, this is not a british phenomenon, it is very similar with other cancer charities in the world. Most of the cancer charities in the world are gathered under a roof organization – the www.uicc.org this is the organization through which the cellular companies transfered the money to the INTERPHONE research, so it won’t appear as “dirty money” to the public.”

    Iris Atzmon

    ‘Your Money and Your Life’

    by Martin Walker

    As published by the Ecologist.
    October 2000

    Britain’s cancer charities are a multimillion pound industry. But they are no nearer to ‘curing’ cancer than they were half a century ago. Quite the opposite -much of their time and money is spent avoiding awkward questions about what causes the disease. Martin J Walker investigates.

    Everybody knows what causes cancer. Bad diet; too much sunlight; cigarettes; faulty genes – and, of course, that virus which crops up near nuclear power installations. Modern science has told us so, and now it must tell us how it can be cured. But we are getting there. Diligent research, largely carried out by Britain’s cancer charities, means that a cure for cancer is probably now nearer than ever.

    That, at least, is one side of the cancer story; the side you can hear from establishment scientists, drugs companies and media science correspondents. But the other side is hidden from history and the public record. For, in truth, we do not know what the main causes of cancer are, nor why the disease is escalating. Apart from the continual propaganda about cigarettes, there is no public discourse about the chemical or environmental causes of cancer. And it is unlikely that the public will ever be informed about them while cancer research in Britain is dominated by a cabal of unaccountable doctors, scientists and surgeons – a ‘cancer club’ which garners some of its funding and much of its philosophy from an industrial infrastructure which independent scientists believe is itself the cause of rising cancer rates. For cancer ‘research’ in Britain is a misnomer. As science and medicine have become increasingly interlocked with industry, the motivation, initiative and funding for preventative cancer research has all but dried up.

    Throughout the postwar years in Britain, industry, government and science have tried to tackle the cancer epidemic by searching for miracle cures rather than investigating causes; by playing with gene sequencers rather than looking at environmental pollution; and by taking industry’s money rather than looking at its record. The conclusion today is inescapable: Britain’s cancer research charities are part of the problem, not the solution.


    There are over 600 cancer charities in the UK, but the three big players – the heart of the ‘cancer establishment’ – are the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF), the Cancer Research Campaign (CRC) and the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR). All are involved in the United Kingdom Coordinating Committee on Cancer Research (UKCCR).

    The philosophical and scientific approach of this cancer establishment is frighteningly narrow. Its interest in researching environmental or chemical causes of cancer appears negligible. The great weight of its research is consumed with the deeply fashionable idea that unravelling the human genome will provide the solution to all human illness, cancer included – despite the fact that, on the highest estimates, no more than 5 per cent of cancers are considered to be hereditary.

    These three charities preserve a nearmonopoly over the whole field of cancer. They determine the public perception of what cancer is and what can be done about it. Yet all are essentially unaccountable, steeped in conservatism and the privilege which class and power have bestowed upon the top echelons of the British medical profession. Between them, they have been gradually and intermittently losing the war against many cancers for almost a century.


    The Imperial Cancer Relief Fund was launched in 1902 with a £30,000 appeal -a ‘scheme for investigating the cause, prevention and treatment of cancer’ – by an independent group of physicians from the Royal College of Surgeons and the Royal College of Physicians. From the 1920s onward, the ICRF became essentially a public company and, in 1939, a charity.

    The original London laboratory of the ICRF was staffed until the late 1950s by only nine scientists, whose annual expenditure in 1950 was around £41,000. After the building of a £2m laboratory in Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1963, though, the Fund grew rapidly. By the mid1990s, it was receiving around £59m annually in donations, spending £50m on research and £10.5m on administration. Its assets, in investments, mortgages and property ownership stood at almost £90m. Today the ICRF boasts over 40 research groups based at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, a laboratory in Hertfordshire which houses 10 research groups and an additional 35 clinical units and research groups based in National Health Hospitals and Universities around the country. It employs over 1,000 scientists, doctors and technicians. In the year 199697, it spent over £56m on research.

    An article in the Sunday People in the weeks after the opening of the Lincoln’s Inn Fields laboratory was a foretaste both of the kind of tame journalism it would attract and the fostering of public guilt that was to characterise the ICRF over the next three decades. The writer estimated that the new laboratories would cost £700,000 a year to run, leaving a £620,000 shortfall for the Fund. The money to run the new cancer research laboratory could not, the article stated, come from the government. If it did, ‘the State would want to keep a strict eye to see how its money was being spent… the scientists themselves do not want this’. The paper then exhorted readers to send money to help the Fund ‘beat cancer’ within ten years – ‘or even less’; money which could only come ‘from you and me and the chap next door’.

    The money duly came from the public’s purses and wallets, as it has done ever since. After all, we all want to help ‘beat cancer’. But how well has the ICRF done in that fight? According to its own fact sheet, Imperial Cancer Research Fund Past and Present, the Fund does not consider preventative research or trials of carcinogenic chemicals to be a priority. Of the 110 units, departments and laboratories cited in the ICRF 1998 Scientific Report, not one deals with chemical or environmental carcinogens and only three look at preventative issues.

    Why should this be? As with all the major cancer charities, the answer has to do with money – and, more specifically, the question of who funds the Fund, which is explored later in this article.


    The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) is an Associate Institute of the University of London, linked to the Royal Marsden NHS Trust. The Institute is not a charity, and so for a long time it was unable to raise funds in the same way as the ICRF and the CRC. In 1991, however, it found a way around this, by setting up its own charity, Breakthrough Breast Cancer. By 1998, the charity had raised over £15m, which it spent building the Toby Robins Breast Cancer Research Centre at Sutton in Surrey.

    Breakthrough is a different kind of cancer charity. Apparently popular, accessible and trendy, from the beginning it had close ties to the fashion and cosmetics industry (its biggest campaign was sponsored by Avon cosmetics), with very public support from models, actors and pop stars. This superficial populism makes no difference to its approach, though – it does exactly the same work as the other cancer charities, conducting no significant research into environmental or chemical causes of breast cancer. More than that, Breakthrough provides a public face for major drugs companies to sell their own approach to cancer treatment.

    The setting up of Breakthrough solved more than funding problems for the ICR. When it gained a popular base it also gained trial subjects for the ongoing trials which the ICR was carrying out with the drug tamoxifen. Breakthrough’s main drugs company sponsor is Zeneca, the pharmaceutical breakaway from ICI which developed tamoxifen. Breakthrough provided Zeneca with access to the House of Commons, when the charity provided a secretary to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Breast Cancer, a group composed solely of Members of Parliament. Through them, Breakthrough is able to control breast cancer information in parliament. This strategy ensures, as intended, that the All Party Parliamentary Group focuses on screening and treatment of cancer while ignoring its environmental or chemical causes.


    The British Empire Cancer Campaign, launched in 1923, became the Cancer Research Campaign (CRC) in 1980. Although smaller than the ICRF, by the mid1990s, the CRC had an annual income from donations of £59m, a research allocation of £64.7m and assets of £25m. Professor Gordon McVie, current directorgeneral of the CRC, is a major cancer research apparatchik, and one of the two key players in the cancer research industry over the last two decades. McVie is probably best known for his absurd attempts to seduce children into eating vegetables. After Medical Research Council studies revealed that a diet rich in vegetables might reduce cancer rates, Professor McVie commissioned the Iceland Group to come up with brightly coloured or interestingly flavoured vegetables. In April 1997, cheeseandonion flavoured cauliflower, chocolate coated carrots, pizza flavoured sweetcorn and peas tasting like baked beans hit the streets. Sales plummeted and Iceland soon withdrew the delicacies from its shelves. McVie came out of the affair looking distinctly silly.

    McVie’s vegetable brainwave is a good model by which to assess the approach of the CRC, and the big cancer charities in general. For orthodox cancer research is often concerned with changing the nature of things in order to adjust to problems created by contemporary society, rather than going to the root of the problems.


    The UKCCCR, set up in 1984 by the CRC, the ICRF and the Medical Research Council (MRC), seems to exist to serve the interests of the most powerful established research charities. Theoretically, it is supposed to coordinate the work of major cancer charities. In reality, its purpose seems to be to endorse cheques garnered by the big charities from mainly industrial funders.

    The UKCCCR has around 15 main subcommittees, almost all of which are concerned with running clinical trials of various drugs produced by the pharmaceutical companies which fund them. Member organisations earmark funds received to be used under a subcommittee of the UKCCCR. In turn the UKCCCR lends its name to research for which the ICRF, the CRC and the ICR have received money. In essence, the function of the UKCCCR appears to be to give credibility to research paid for by drug companies which the ICRF, CRC and ICR do not wish to be publicly or charitably associated with.


    The power of these charities is demonstrated by how effectively they control public access to the facts about cancer. There is no independent public review of the work of the cancer charities, which allows them to present their own version of events – and they do. In the 1960s, the Imperial Cancer Research Fund was talking of curing cancer within ten years. Almost 40 years later, in January 1999, the Sunday Mirror ran a typical contemporary cancer article, based upon the results of the EUROCARE II study and a booklet published by the CRC . It was headlined, ‘How we’re winning the war on cancer’. At the top of the article, like a supermarket price ticket, was a table: ‘Stomach cancer down 40%, Cervical cancer down 20%, Lung cancer down 5%, Oesophagus cancer down 5%, Child cancer cure rate 65%, Testicular cancer cure rate 90%, Breast cancer cure rate 60%, Skin cancer cure rate 97%…’ In the middle of the article was a quote from Professor Gordon McVie of the Cancer Research Campaign: ‘These million people [treated for and survived cancer over the last ten years] are alive because the results of research are at long last reaching the NHS. The wealth of investigation that has been taking place is coming to fruition.’

    This article was typical of the current reporting of cancer research and treatment. The approach has commonly identifiable parts; the shock troops are unverifiable statistics with no contextual moorings such as gender, age, occupation or class. While we are told that stomach cancer is ‘down’ 40 per cent, cervical cancer ‘down’ 20 per cent, lung cancer ‘down’ 5 per cent and oesophagus cancer ‘down’ 5 per cent, we are are not told that any such reductions in fact have little to do with the cancer research charities. Such vacillations are governed almost entirely by lifestyle, fashion, occupational trends and carcinogenic product marketing.

    Inevitably, such articles fail to tell the reader whether the cancers quoted as having rising cure rates represent a high or low percentage of overall cancer cases; nor is the reader given any idea how many other cancers are rising while having no treatment success. In fact, only one of the cancers cited in this particular article – breast cancer – is traditionally associated with high mortality rates, and some have always been successfully ‘cured’ with surgery.

    Finally, the argument is always neatly concluded with bald, simplified assertions about ‘prevention’: too much sun, sex, cigarettes and a poor diet. Taken as a whole, this approach to propaganda avoids any reference to air pollution, chemical food additives, pesticides, alcohol or any occupational carcinogens whatsoever – into which research is rarely if ever conducted by these organisations. They have dumbeddown the debate on prevention and stifled the debate on causes.

    In June 1997, the ICRF and the CRC scrambled to attack a Macmillan Cancer Relief Report which suggested that cancer rates would go on rising into the 21st century. Such views, though, are not unusual; in fact it is usually the CRC and the ICRF which hold the minority opinion on cancer rates. In January 1980, The Times reported that: ‘More than £25 million a year is spent on cancer research in Britain, but the death rate from the condition has changed little since the war… Research seems to have little effect in reducing the death rate from the four big killers; cancer of the lung, large intestines, breast and stomach’. This remains as true now as it was 20 years ago. .


    So who funds the cancer establishment? Who funds the research of the top doctors and scientists who consistently refuse to investigate wider environmental causes of the disease? The answer goes a long way to explaining why the top cancer charities behave as they do.


    When asked about funding, the bigger charities point to their fundraising pie charts, which show that their major funding comes in individual covenants and donations, with only relatively minor amounts given by corporate sponsors. Yet this is to miss the point; for the big cancer research charities are steeped in an industrial culture which can serve to hide serious conflicts between the need for preventative research and the needs of industry.

    Both the CRC and the ICRF hold substantial reserves – in the mid 90s the ICRF’s tied assets stood at £90m – most of which is invested in industry. Even as late as the mid90s it was revealed that the ICRF was ‘inadvertantly’ investing in the tobacco industry. The investment portfolio of the cancer charities is not publicly accessible, and consequently it is not possible for supporters to ensure that investments have only been made in companies which are not implicit in the production of carcinogens.

    The major charities also give the impression of being completely separate from the pharmaceutical industry, by processing their money through ‘joint’ organisations like the UKCCCR. Money for research into nuclear power and cancer, for example, given by the nuclear industry, is passed on to the UKCCCR, of which the ICRF and the CRC are partnership members. The UKCCCR has a very low public profile, and charitable contributors wishing to find out about its work or its funding often find it very difficult. Another group, the Clinical Trials Service Unit at Oxford, to which the ICRF and the British Heart Association are linked, accepts millions in research grants from pharmaceutical companies to research different therapies.

    For some years now, the top charities have been competing like any other ‘service provider’ for corporate cash. Both the Cancer

    Research Campaign and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund invest heavily in creating ‘Corporate Partnerships’. Tellingly, they sell their involvement with commerce and industry not on the grounds that companies will be helping to prevent or cure cancer, but that the companies themselves will profit from being aligned with the charity – as this quote from a Cancer Research Campaign document sent to business demonstrates:

    Supporting the CRC makes good business sense: Companies expect tangible and quantifiable returns from their work with charities. We can demonstrate the success of our commercial packages – successes that can make a real difference to sales, corporate image and teambuilding in your business’ .

    The CRC’s enticement to partnership is brazen. Nor is the charity shy about offering its brand image to commercial companies, telling companies: ’86 per cent of consumers are more likely to buy a product that is associated with a cause. The most appealing ’causes’ to consumers are health and medical research’.

    The ICRF is even more bullish in selling its partnership deals. Its website extols entrepreneurs to: ‘Make a difference to your business through increase in sales. We have proved that working with ICRF can improve sales results’. Practising what it preaches, the ICRF currently works in ‘partnership’ with CGU Insurance, NM Rothchild, Siemens, Marks and Spencer, Tesco and Nike. The charity boasts to its partners that it enjoys a 97 per cent ‘approval rating’ amongst the UK’s adult population; it is the imagebooster par excellence for the average multinational.

    Another point of conflict involves the Boards and Committees of the main cancer charities. A number of these Committee and Board members come from industries which themselves have a long and poor record on cancer. The Chairman of the CRC, for example, is R D C Hubbard, who for 10 years, from 196574, was on the Board of Cape Industries, then a major manufacturer of the carcinogen asbestos.

    Recently, the charities themselves have been branching out into business, and investing public money in the companies which will produce the drugs and diagnostic aids which they have researched. Early in 1999, for example, ICRF announced that it was to buy a £2.5m stake in Antisoma, a biotech company floated on the PanEuropean Stock Exchange in 1998 and the London Stock Exchange in 1999. Antisoma’s only product is a treatment for ovarian cancer developed by the ICRF. In such ways, the charity/industry nexus keeps itself moving in smooth circles.


    Though much of their funding now comes from business, the cancer charities are still adept at tugging at the public heartstrings – with a view to opening the public purse. Scarcely a month goes by without one or another of them launching a ‘major appeal’ to raise public money.

    Such appeals have become more and more sophisticated over the decades. The charities now spend substantial amounts simply developing new slogans for these campaigns, such as the ICRF’s recent ‘Turning science into hope’, or the misleading ‘Finding cures, saving lives’. The charities have found, however, that the most effective slogans are those which insist that ‘you’ can make a difference. ‘Working together, we can achieve so much more’ claims Breakthrough Breast Cancer. ‘Cooperation is the key to success’ insists the Leukaemia Research Fund, which also promises that it is ‘Spending your money wisely’. Yet it is virtually impossible for the public to find out how ‘wisely’ the LRF – or any of the other established cancer charities – are spending their money, for none of them offers a detailed prospectus, a general meeting or voting rights to subscribers, beneficiaries, workers or interested parties.


    The cancer establishment’s refusal to research environmental and chemical causes of cancer could, perhaps, be seen as a crude sin of omission. But its determined and continual assault on all and any ‘alternative’ therapies and practitioners reveals the charities in their true colours – as footsoldiers for the chemical industry and the conventional medical establishment.

    Such ‘quackbusting’ is not new. The cancer establishment, especially those leading figures involved with the ICR and the Royal Marsden Hospital, the ICRF and the CRC have played a leading part in attacking alternative treatments for almost a century. By 1924, the ICRF was defining one of its primary roles as policing the alternatives:

    The knowledge thus obtained [by the ICRF] has helped to dissipate the atmosphere of hopelessness which formerly existed and has profoundly influenced the diagnosis and the treatment of cancer. It has also served to protect the public against spurious claims which have been made concerning the cause or the cures of the disease.’

    The high point of scientific medicine’s assault upon alternative approaches to cancer was the 1939 Cancer Act, which coincidentally came into being in the same year that the ICRF was granted its Royal Charter and Charitable Status. The Act forbade, on pain of draconian punishment, anyone other than a qualified doctor, involved in work with cancer, from speaking about the causes or the treatment of cancer. From that point on, the cancer establishment and its partners in industry launched an allout war on alternative approaches to cancer, which is still being fought today.


    A good example of this war, one of many similar tales, is the story of what happened to the Bristol Cancer Help Centre in 1991. That year, at a press conference, the ICRF and the CRC announced the results of research they claimed to have carried out into the ‘therapeutic outcome’ of the regime at Bristol Cancer Help Centre, an organisation dedicated to treating cancers with alternative means. The research concluded that women who attended Bristol after having breast cancer diagnosed were three times more likely to die as a result of their illness than women who had conventional treatment.

    But the ‘research’ was not what it seemed. Although the researchers were supposed to carry out two studies, one on survival and the other on quality of life, they failed even to begin the quality of life study and announced the ‘results’ of the survival study only 18 months into a 5year schedule. It was later found that the results of the preliminary study were bogus. The researchers had, for example, taken their sample from attendees at Bristol, even if these subjects had not been involved in the Bristol therapy. They had also failed to acknowledge that many of the Bristol attendees studied had previously had – failed – conventional surgery. It was later revealed that one of the research team, an eminent oncologist, had also been a committee member of Healthwatch, an organisation set up with the main aim of debunking alternative treatments. The head of the study and the report’s principal author, Dr Clare Chilvers, has since declared an interest in Zeneca, the company which produces tamoxifen, the antibreast cancer drug.

    Although the Bristol study was roundly condemned by statisticians, other researchers and Bristol Clinic attendees, and despite the fact that the publication of the research damaged many people’s lives, it was three years before the CRC and the ICRF offered an apology. In January 1994, the Charities Commission censured both the CRC and the ICRF for the study, and consequently Professor McVie and Sir Walter Bodmer, the directors of the two charities at the time.

    On this rare occasion, the wrongs done by the cancer establishment to their smaller rivals were made public. Sadly, though, this is the exception. Faced with the power of the big cancer charities, many alternative practitioners simply collapse.


    The big cancer research charities have become the selfappointed watchdogs over emerging forms of treatment and the censors of campaigns which place the emphasis in cancer research upon the environment and chemicals. Instead of being academically independent and intellectually curious, cancer research scientists are now hand in hand with the very industrial system which has turned modern life into a maze of risk. The big cancer charities’ effective monopoly is unaccountable to the people who fund them with voluntary contributions or the representatives of those who leave them bequests. Although they dictate NHS policy on cancer, they are unaccountable to parliament or the public. Clearly, something has to change, and there are several areas that must be tackled.


    Since the 1980s, government in Britain has scaled back on public funding for scientific research; the consequent trend in research has been for those agencies which distribute large research budgets, to enter into partnership with industry in order to secure shrinking funding. As a consequence, there has been a steady movement of research away from the accountable public sector into the unaccountable private sector.

    The power and independence of the cancer charities owe a lot to the continuing unwillingness of government to become involved financially and scientifically in cancer research. Only by removing the dependency of cancer researchers on private money can research become honest again. There are several potential ways of doing this. Research could become the responsibility of the State, and be allocated a budget, dispersed through an autonomous agency similar to the Medical Research Council. Or genuinely independent organisations, placed under much tighter regulation than at present, could be allowed to flourish. There are other options too; but the crucial thing is that this topic is opened for public debate.


    Cancer research has to be dragged from the grip of vested interests and returned to the more creative appraisal of genuinely independent academics, scientists and intellectuals. There are relatively simple ways of doing this. For example, anyone who has anything to do with cancer research should be vetted for links with carcinogenproducing industries. Officeholders and scientists working in cancer research should have to make a public declaration of all their interests in pharmaceutical or biotech companies. These declarations, together with staff salary figures, should be made publicly available. All cancer research scientists should also have to spend a major part of their time on nonchemical, nongenetic treatments or environmental causes of cancer.


    Crucially, though, we need to ensure that genuine research into the real causes of cancer – and thus into genuine prevention – can take place. A wideranging programme of research into industrial car cinogens should become a priority of cancer research, while the literature on previously tested industrial carcinogens should be reviewed and regulated. All cancer research should be locked into the regulatory process, so that as soon as carcinogens are recorded or discovered, the appropriate regulatory agency acts upon this information.

    Statistical information about all cancers, including epidemiological statistics and those on causation – however inconclusive – should be compiled and published in a variety of different forms by an independent body to which the public has access. There should be a frequent public scientific, academic and financial audit of all cancer research, by an independent regulatory review body. The report of this audit should be debated in the House of Commons annually, at which time a yearly cancer research strategy should also be debated. National Health Service treatment for cancer should also be deregulated and ‘freedup’. Experimental ‘alternative’ therapeutic work on cancer should be detached from the odium of criminalisation, while remaining within established regulatory boundaries and allowed into hospitals. Trusts throughout the country should be encouraged to explore communitybased therapeutic initiatives.

    The research, prevention and treatment of cancer is too important to be left in the hands of a small number of unaccountable scientists, funded by industry money and the voluntary sector. Cancer sufferers in Britain have paid too high a price for the indulgence of science and its utopian search for a universal elixir. They have also been kept in the dark for too long about the real price of technological and industrial progress. It is time for the cancer establishment to give up its secrets. Martin J Walker is the author of six books, including Dirty Medicine. Anyone interested in investing in the publication of his next book – The Gatekeepers, a history of alternative cancer care in Britain, should contact him at Slingshot Publications, BM Box 8314, London WC1N 3XX.


    The official message about cancer,which puts considerable weight on smoking,while ignoring chemicals and environmental carcinogens and at the same time attacking alternative theories of causation and treatment,is now wellestablished.The 19th and early 20th century emphasis on cause and environmental prevention has shifted to the body of the individual and ultimately the individual cell. But while today there is public recognition of the role that the tobacco industry played in resisting critical research,there has been no such recognition of the industrial and chemical vested interests which have derailed research into environmental caus es.Over the last 50 years,the release of new chemicals into our environment has escalated. The great majority of these chemi cals,even the ones in food,are neither tested nor regulated for carcinogenicity. Up until World War II,investigators searched for environmen tal carcinogens in the atmosphere,in food,in alcohol,in occupa tional materials.However, the growing dominance of society by business and industry has increasingly placed the responsibility for cancer and other environmental illnesses at the door of the sufferer.If the causes of cancers are not genetic,then they are said to be the fault of the individual: lung cancer is the responsi bility of the smoker,skin cancer is the responsibility of the sun lover and other cancers are caused by unregulated diets or promiscuous sexual behaviour.Such a theoretical overview lights only a fraction of the path in our journey towards estab lishing a programme for the prevention of cancer..

    Read the review of Martin Walker’s latest book Skewed

    Read Martin Walker’s biography


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