War Against Cancer Should Focus More on Prevention and Less on Toxic Drugs

Margaret Cuomo and her book, A World Without a Cure

America’s war against cancer, which began officially with federal law in 1971, won’t be won until the focus shifts dramatically toward prevention, according Margaret Cuomo, M.D., a board certified radiologist and the sister of New York governor Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo, in a book published last month, delivers a scathing review of America’s 40-year fight against cancer, believing it was badly misdirected by the politics of big business.

“The system designed to study, diagnose and treat cancer in the United States is fatally flawed,” she says in A World Without Cancer.

She points to the $90 billion of federal funds that have been spent on research with a variety of agencies, and getting a minimal return on taxpayer money.

Mesothelioma, which is caused almost exclusively by asbestos exposure, is one of the few cancers regarded today as entirely preventable. Cuomo believes almost all cancers should be on that list, and that a world without cancer can become reality.

“I think it’s certainly possible. I do not think that’s an impossible dream,” she said during an interview with Everyday Health.  “Using the strategies we have right now, over 50 percent of cancers could be prevented.”

During the interview, Cuomo cited five examples of how simple behavioral modification, along with a commitment from federal legislators and product manufacturers, could cut cancer dramatically for a fraction of the cost.

  • Food – “There are about 100 chemicals used to grow our crops that have been linked to cancers. Eating organic is one step to eliminating that risk.”
  • Personal Care Products – “Everything from shampoos and body wash, to hand sanitizers and toothpaste. Right now manufacturers of these products are allowed to use harmful chemicals.”
  • Household products – “There are a lot of good organic products on the market that are just as effective.”
  • Physical activity – “Build physical activity into your daily life.”
  • Cell phones – “It makes good sense to use a headset, to keep the phone away from your face.”

The War on Cancer: Who’s Winning?

For her book, Cuomo interviewed more than 60 experts in the cancer field. She read dozens of studies. She relied on her own work as a diagnostic radiologist in New York working with cancer patients and their families.

“Think of it: More than 40 years after the war on cancer was declared by President Richard Nixon in 1971, we are not much closer to preventing the disease. … When have Americans ever waged such a long, drawn-out and costly war, with no end in sight?” she wrote in a blog before the book was released.

In the book, she also questions why after 40 years of fighting cancer, that the methods of treating it – chemotherapy, radiation and a variety of drugs – are so toxic, and actually increase the risk of developing other cancers.

She cites Good Morning America co-host Robin Roberts and her very public announcement that she has been diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), which may have stemmed from the chemotherapy and radiation she received five years earlier in her bout with breast cancer.

“I think there is a lack of accountability,” Cuomo said in an interview with the New York Daily News. “Right now, we have over 10 federal institutions, departments and agencies dedicated to cancer research. But one doesn’t know what the other is doing.”

She is frustrated that the National Cancer Institute (NCI) only allocates $200 million of its $4.5 billion budget toward cancer prevention.

“Our (main) target should be cancer prevention,” she said. “It’s not about access to the best physicians or treatments. It’s about the limited effectiveness of these therapies we have.”

She believes federal resources should be diverted from research and therapies, and rerouted to cancer prevention efforts. Smoking and obesity, environmental exposures and better regulation of cancer-causing chemicals that Americans regularly are exposed to, could dramatically reduce the cancers today.

An estimated 1.6 million new cases of cancer are expected to be diagnosed in America this year. She finds it appalling that the pharmaceutical industry can position cancer-fighting drugs that can cost as much as $100,000 for a single course of treatment, and expect only minimal effectiveness.

“It is time for a bold, new approach to the ‘cancer culture,’ as we know it,” she said. “Despite decades of promises and a vast amount of funding, the current model has failed.”


Tim Povtak is an award-winning writer with more than 30 years of reporting national and international news. His most recent experience is in researching and writing about asbestos litigation issues and asbestos-related conditions like mesothelioma. If you have a story idea for Tim, please email him at tpovtak@asbestos.com

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