Cancer is fear. Cancer is pain and suffering. Cancer is loved ones lost. Cancer is an epidemic that continues to grow and, like no other disease, has consistently exposed the weaknesses of the medical industry. Simply put, we are not winning this war. Anyone who purports otherwise is either lying, or is easily influenced by misleading statistics.
For example, some say that we are succeeding based on the fact that the number of cancer deaths per year is not increasing as fast as the number of new cases.1 This is obviously a ridiculous yet sobering assessment. If we are doing well we would see a decline in the number of deaths, and not a continual increase year after year. In the US, over 1600 people die from cancer each day, and Canada became one of the first few countries in the world where cancer is officially the leading cause of death. We are living with the reality that one in two Canadians are expected to be diagnosed with cancer.2
Some will claim that we are surviving more with the disease, but this is also, in large part, a false perception influenced by misleading statistics. For example, more aggressive cancer screening allows for earlier detection than ever before, thus giving the illusion of increased life expectancy. Clearly, just because people are living longer following diagnosis doesn’t necessarily mean they are living longer with cancer, but that the disease is now being detected earlier than in the past. Then we have a whole category of “pseudo-cancers” - benign tumours such as ductal carcinoma in situ (stage 0 cancer) - that many women are diagnosed with and aggresively treated for with surgery, radiation and drugs, when in fact a large percentage of these low risk “pseudo-cancers” would never have developed into any real cancer that would have required treatment.3,4 Many women are, essentially, receiving very harmful, life altering medical care and “surviving" a cancer that they never had in the first place. It’s almost criminal, yet completely legal and common practice.
These examples, and countless more, serve to remind us that the confusing language of cancer and the play on statistics should not divert our attention away from the truth; we need a paradigm shift in order to start winning this war.
Yet despite the medical industry’s many failures, cancer remains a very lucrative field. Never before have we witnessed a business that, after 50 years, continues to be highly profitable despite the fact that it continually overpromises and underachieves. Nor has it ever been more difficult for the general public to distinguish between the business of cancer versus the actual scientific evidence that can lead to better prevention and treatment options. It becomes even harder to tell these apart when respectable news outlets publish content that resembles real news, but is in fact just marketing in full disguise.
Cancer marketing, both harmful and unethical, encourages patients to accept conventional treatments.
A client of mine sent me a link to an article in the National Post, thinking that I would be interested in reading up on the latest news about cancer treatments. Full of embellishments and lacking important facts, the article, Canadians with cancer have more options than ever, thanks to innovative new medicines, read more like an advertisement than anything else. It presented a glowing review of targeted cancer therapies without discussing the many disappointments and outright failures experienced in most clinical trials. I knew something wasn’t quite right with the article, so I looked a little closer and discovered the fine print above the title: “This content is sponsored by a member of Innovative Medicines Canada [IMC].” On its website, we learn that the IMC is an association that “represents the voice of Canada’s innovative pharmaceutical industry”, with close to 50 member companies, including Sanofi, Pfizer, and Bayer. The IMC claims to invest over $1-billion in R&D annually, and to contribute over $3-billion to Canada’s economy. In short, a pharmaceutical company paid for this story about new cancer treatments, and it was created by Content Works- a marketing firm whose mission is "to make big things happen for brands” and serves its clients by "merging editorial expertise with marketing intelligence”.
This type of fake news, originally known as “advertorials", is today officially labelled as “sponsored content”, and its goal is to appear more authentic than regular advertisements. This is quite cynical in nature. To put it bluntly, it is an attempt by cooperate communicators to purposely blur the lines between editorial content and advertising, thus leading the public to believe they are reading real, properly investigated news. Most people will not look to the fine print surrounding the stories they read, nor do they have time to run their own background checks.
Marketing tactics such as this diminish not only the media’s integrity, but also the trust that the public holds for the medical industry. Most importantly, they serve as a reminder that cancer is a business, a lucrative one, and advertising products and services is just business as usual for the big players.
Worse than that, the cancer industry, with its current model that is failing the public, has become a Big Pharma monopoly. Revenue of cancer drugs worldwide had more than doubled from 20.3 billion U.S. dollars in 2003 to 52.4 billion in 2009, surpassed 105 billion in 2015, and is expected to exceed 161 billion by the end of 2021.5,6,7 This highly lucrative monopoly is so powerful that it has become routine practice to threaten and bully any person or entity, even within the medical community, suggesting alternative treatments. These attacks are achieved with the help of the media and are supposedly done for the public’s own protection, but a closer look often reveals otherwise.
90-95% of cancer cases are due to environmental factors, such as nutrition and lifestyle.8 This is where we must focus to start winning the war, but saying so often leads to tremendous backlash from the media representing the scientific community.
For example, health care practitioners who insist that nutrition can prevent and even help to reverse cancer are often unfairly targeted and criticized, even though medical research organizations, such as the National Cancer Institute, approximate that 35% of all cancers are preventable with proper nutrition. Furthermore, a 2016 study published in the journal Nature concluded that up to 90% of cancers are due to extrinsic risk factors, such as diet, lifestyle and pollution.9 Other scientific reviews attribute an even higher percentage of cancer cases, up to 95%, to environmental factors.8,10 Regardless of this evidence, a high and disproportionate amount of funding is allocated to studying genetics, and almost zero research funding goes to understanding how nutrition affects and can treat cancer.
Why is such a large body of evidence being ignored? If nutrition and lifestyle are responsible for 90-95% of cases, why is almost all of the money and focus solely dedicated to studying the genetics of cancer? The only logical explanation, if one can call it that, is that this is the area of research that can generate the most profit - even though the evidence has shown that it is based on a flawed hypothesis.
A Flawed Hypothesis
Conventional cancer research and treatments, including the newer targeted therapies, are based on the biased hypothesis that cancer is strictly a genetic disease, and that the only way to defeat it is to discover, target and destroy cells with genetic mutations. Five decades of consistent failures, trillions of dollars spent, and countless lives lost have all shown this hypothesis to be false, largely because it is based on a reductionist approach that fails to address other pathways, systems, and complexities of the human body.11
In my opinion, fake news, in the form of advertorials and sponsored content, are necessary for drug companies to maintain the status quo of cancer research and treatments. After all, if positive results were so evident there wouldn’t be a need for such deceptive marketing strategies. Nor would there be a need to shut down or downplay any mention of other treatments, such as nutrition-based therapy.
To be clear, I do not categorically oppose current treatments, and even something as harsh as chemotherapy has its place. What I am simply proposing is a more transparent and honest representation of the evidence, and a shift in focus on where the research dollars are being spent. I maintain that it is important for all stakeholders, including pharmaceutical companies and the news media, to communicate with honesty and transparency, to put arrogance and profit incentives aside, and to engage the public with the truth about where we find ourselves today on this battle field. People who are just diagnosed with cancer need to be informed and educated on the whole truth about treatment options, and not marketed to as if they were buying a new car or kitchen appliance. If the medical industrial complex wishes to regain public trust, it can start by putting an end to fake news stories. It just doesn't reflect well on our humanity.
In the meantime, let’s not wait for our government, researchers, or clinicians to start suggesting what we already know can improve and literally save our lives. We can start implementing better nutrition and lifestyle habits today. We can live better, we can leave cancer in our dust.
Naturopath, Health Educator
Nutrition & Exercise Specialist
- Seyfried, T. (2012). Cancer as a metabolic disease. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley.
- Hales, R. (2017). Canadian Cancer Society. [online] www.cancer.ca. Available at: http://www.cancer.ca/ [Accessed 6 Jun. 2018].
- Gøtzsche, P. and Jørgensen, K. (2013). Screening for breast cancer with mammography. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.
- Sagara, Y., Mallory, M., Wong, S., Aydogan, F., DeSantis, S., Barry, W. and Golshan, M. (2015). Survival Benefit of Breast Surgery for Low-Grade Ductal Carcinoma In Situ. JAMA Surgery, 150(8), p.739.
- Statista. (2018). Revenue of cancer drugs worldwide | Statistic. [online] Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/268808/worldwide-revenue-of-cancer-drugs [Accessed 18 Jun. 2018].
- Research, Z. (2018). Global Cancer Drugs Market Size & Share Will Grow USD 161.30 Billion by 2021: Zion Market Research. [online] GlobeNewswire News Room. Available at: https://globenewswire.com/news-release/2017/07/03/1037328/0/en/Global-Cancer-Drugs-Market-Size-Share-Will-Grow-USD-161-30-Billion-by-2021-Zion-Market-Research.html [Accessed 18 Jun. 2018].
- Tirrell, M. (2018). The world spent this much on cancer drugs last year .... [online] CNBC. Available at: https://www.cnbc.com/2016/06/02/the-worlds-2015-cancer-drug-bill-107-billion-dollars.html [Accessed 18 Jun. 2018].
- Anand, P., Kunnumakkara, A., Sundaram, C., Harikumar, K., Tharakan, S., Lai, O., Sung, B. and Aggarwal, B. (2008). Cancer is a Preventable Disease that Requires Major Lifestyle Changes. Pharmaceutical Research, 25(9), pp.2200-2200.
- Wu, S., Powers, S., Zhu, W. and Hannun, Y. (2015). Substantial contribution of extrinsic risk factors to cancer development. Nature, 529(7584), pp.43-47.
- Rappaport, S. (2016). Genetic Factors Are Not the Major Causes of Chronic Diseases. PLOS ONE, 11(4), p.e0154387.
- Campbell TC. Cancer Prevention and Treatment by Wholistic Nutrition. J Nat Sci, 3(10):e448, 2017.