David M. Rorvik
David Rorvik

Fellowship Title:

Losing The War on Cancer: The ‘Awful Numbers’ Revisited

David Rorvik
April 12, 1976

Fellowship Year

May 20, 1976


Inveighing ever more stridently against the cancer “quacks,” whose menace in reality is no more than that of mere sitting ducks, the American Cancer Society cautions us to keep our sights firmly on “progress” and “proven cures” in the billion-dollar-a-year “War on Cancer.” In its publication, “Unproven Methods of Cancer Management,” the ACS states: “When one realizes that 1,500,000 Americans are alive today because they went to their doctor in time, and that the proven treatments of radiation and surgery are responsible for these cures, he is less likely to take a chance with a questionable practitioner or an unproven treatment.” While health statisticians seek in vain to discover any substantive data that might even remotely authenticate this broad claim, other ACS spokesmen are not reluctant to make even more preposterous assertions. Helene Brown, president of ACS in California (front line in the guerrilla war with the cancer “quacks”), takes mighty strides against the most-feared disease of our generation each time she makes a public pronouncement, stating on one recent occasion that “there are now ten kinds of cancer which can be cured or controlled by chemotherapy” and, on another, astounding even the optimists with her conviction that “present medical knowledge makes it possible to cure 70 percent of all cancers, if they are detected early.”

Hope apparently springs eternal in Ms. Brown’s unmastectomized bosom — and so does it at ACS headquarters where, if as one cancer researcher put it, “Brown is the Martha Mitchell of the cancer establishment,” she is at least its unrepentant, pro-Watergate Martha Mitchell whose pronouncements still find favor in the inner sanctum of the cancer court. For Ms. Brown’s optimism, however at variance it may be with the facts, is reflected in numerous ACS publications. In the ACS’s “Hopeful Side of Cancer,” for example, the first sentence boasts that “Cancer is one of the most curable of the major diseases in this country.” Over at the National Cancer Institute, meanwhile, the situation has not been much different. NCI director Frank J. Rauscher Jr. has been fond of claiming that “the five-year-survival rate for cancer patients in the 1930s was about one in five. Tcday the figure is one in three.” Both NCI and ACS persistently seek to convey the idea that progress, steady and sure, is being made, that there’s light at the end of the tunnel if only Congress and the public will keep the funds flowing.

James Watson, the Nobel Prize winner whose discoveries in biology are fundamental to our further understanding of living matter, whether malignant or benign, asserts from a perch as nearly objective as one can attain in this imperfect society that our now vastly inflated national cancer program, the result of ex-President Nixon’s declared “War on Cancer,” the National Cancer Act of 1971 and the ensuing billions of tax dollars, is a complete “sham.” 1 A medical moonshot that misfired at its inception — except that the television cameras weren’t there to make the disaster immediately evident, with the result that most Americans believe the “rocket” is still moving steadily toward its target.

Just a billion dollars a year for ten years, and we’ll cure 90 percent of all cancer, Dr. R. Lee Clark, president of the M.D. Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute in Houston, promised in the 1960s. And Ralph Yarborough, then a Democratic Senator from Texas, bit. When it became evident that the Democrats might cop the next post-Apollo “spectacular,” so did Nixon. The National Cancer Act of 1971 zoomed through Congress with only Gaylord Nelson, Democrat of Wisconsin, dissenting in the Senate, objecting to the Act as “a mischievious political compromise of a very important scientific matter.” Today, the nearly autonomous National Cancer Institute has an annual budget of about $800 million, with which, its critics claim, it is merely perpetuating, albeit in greater comfort, the same vested medical interests which failed us with equal aplomb when they were funded at the still-generous, pre-1971 $200 million level.

By 1975, with funding at the half-billion-dollar level, Dr. Watson said that from his inside view, serving on the National Cancer Advisory Board, it was clear to him that the National Cancer Plan was having no impact and that the more than doubling of funds had merely doubled pre-existing programs. As for those claims of steady progress, Dr. Watson charges that “the American public is being sold a nasty bill of goods. While they are being told about cancer cures, the cure rates have improved [since the 1950s] only about one percent.”

ACS/NCI propaganda to the contrary went largely unchallenged by the press until science writer Daniel S. Greenberg, author of The Politics of Pure Science, wrote an article for Columbia Journalism Review(January/February 1975) deploring both the misrepresentations of the cancer establishment and the press’ unquestioning acceptance of its claims. The article loosed a storm of controversy and, finally, a flurry of “rebuttals” which were patently unsuccessful, managing only to point up more flaws in the official claims and to reveal an even greater capacity for distortion than had previously been exhibited.

When all was said and done, the “awful numbers” Greenberg marshalled with the assistance of an unnamed “government health economist who is well-versed in cancer statistics” remain dolefully intact, unscathed by the attempts of Dr. Rauscher, cancer researcher Emil Frei, NCI statistician Sidney Cutler, ACS science editor Alan Davis and others to undo them. 2 The facts, to which NCI statistics bear witness, are these: most of the “progress” ACS/NCI take credit for occurred before the early 1950s, in a period when cancer research funding was very small. The most compelling explanation for the pre-1955 improvement in survival rates is the post-war introduction of blood transfusions and antibiotics, both of which enabled more victims to survive not cancer per se but cancer surgery and attendant infections.

Since the 1950s, the five-year-survival rate for patients diagnosed as having forms of cancer which, together, constitute 66 percent of the total incidence of the disease increased by five percentage points or fewer. The three biggest killers fall into this disappointing category — lung cancer, with one percent increase in survival, breast cancer with a four percent increase and cancer of the colon with a one percent increase. In another category, accounting for 12 percent of the incidence, survival rates actually declined since the 1950s. Cancers of the vulva, penis, lip, bone and esophagus are among those that fall into this group. Survival rates for those stricken with cancers accounting for the remaining 22 percent may be said, by some standards, to have improved more than five percent, but this is scarcely enough to justify calling cancer “one of the most curable of the major diseases.”

UCLA cancer researcher and epidemiologist Dr. James Enstrom cautions, moreover, that “the situation is really significantly worse than the official statistics [used by Greenberg and others] suggest.” If one resists the convenient, arbitrary separation of cancers by body-organ affected (for there is still no proof that one cancer differs fundamentally from another) and examine all cancers together, then, Dr. Enstrom says, Dr. Watson is absolutely right: “survival rates have remained virtually constant since the 1950s.” Furthermore, the data that is used to calculate the official statistics, he adds, “is heavily biased to begin with” because only the “best” hospitals, with better ancillary care, are allowed to contribute. Poorer hospitals with lower general standards of care and without the capacity to calculate “reliable” statistics are excluded. It is not unusual, Dr. Enstrom observes, to find twice as many patients dying of cancer in those poorer hospitals, yet these deaths are not represented in the final statistical sample. Dr. Enstrom and a colleague at the California Tumor Registry, a major contributor to the NCI’s official compilation of statistics, are conducting a thorough analysis of the cancer statistics and are finding, they say, biometrical errors of sufficient magnitude to render “almost entirely unreliable” the five-year survival data that has been used to support claims of “progress” in the cancer war.

A government authority on cancer statistics, economist Morton Klein of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, says his findings agree with those of Dr. Enstrom. Klein, who may now be identified as the statistician who assisted Greenberg, asserts that credit is often taken by the ACS/NCI where no credit is due. Much has been claimed for the efficacy of “early detection” in cutting cancer mortality, for example, but in fact, says Klein, there is no real evidence that the Pap smears, which are the leading edge of early detection today, have had any true impact. The “positive progress” that has been claimed in the battle against cervical cancer, he points out, is “not progress in terms of early detection or effective therapy; it just happens that the incidence, the number of women coming down with cervical cancer, has been declining dramatically for reasons no one understands. Those women who still get it, however, are not surviving any longer than they used to. The Pap smear, meanwhile, did not come into effect until the middle or later stages of the observed decline in incidence; in other words, the mortality was declining at the same slope [rate] that it is today well before Pap smears were used.”

Dr. Hardin B. Jones, a professor of physiology and medical physics at the University of California, Berkeley, has painstakingly analyzed cancer statistics for decades. He finds today, as he found in the 1950s and 1960s, that “evidence for benefit from cancer therapy has depended on systematic biometric errors,” that “in the matter of duration of malignant tumors before treatment, no studies have established the much-talked-about relationship between early detection and favorable survival after treatment,” that “neither the timing nor the extent of treatment of the true malignancies has appreciably altered the average course of the disease,” and that “the possibility exists that treatment makes the average situation worse.”

A number of independent studies, reports, researchers tend to confirm this bleak outlook. Here is a sampling:

  • Dr. Ian MacDonald, an internationally known cancer surgeon, now deceased, presented extensive data on breast cancer in the American Journal of Surgery (March 1966) and concluded that “the massive educational, diagnostic and therapeutic attack on mammary carcinoma of the past two decades has failed to alter rates of incidence and mortality of this most frequent malignant neoplasm in female patients. Reports on the therapy of mammary cancer in the surgical literature often lack significance through selected samples of small size and the lack of statistical validation.” When the statistical errors are accounted for, he added, the corrected data “lend little if any support to the case for ‘early’ diagnosis.”
  • In 1968, speaking at the Sixth National Cancer Conference, Dr. Phillip Rubin, director of the Division of Radiation Therapy at Washington University School of Medicine, said: “The clinical evidence and statistical data in numerous reviews are cited to illustrate that no increase in survival has been achieved by the addition of irradiation.” Sharing the same platform, Dr. Vera Peters of Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto added: “In carcinoma of the breast the mortality rate still parallels the incidence rate, thus proving that there has been no true improvement in the successful treatment of the disease over the past 30 years, even though there has been technical improvement in both surgery and radiotherapy during this time.”
  • Seven researchers studied individuals afflicted with inoperable lung cancer, comparing survival times of those who received radiation therapy against those who received placebos (sugar pills). The results were published in the journal Radiology (April 1968). The authors conclude: “In several respects, the present study may be regarded as unique in character. It is prospective, large-scale, and multi-discipline. It involves strict randomization of concurrent, well-matched, inoperable male subjects between radiation, anti-tumor agents and placebo….Our results show that even though the difference in survival between the irradiated group and the control group was statistically real, the actual prolongation of life was discouragingly small. Of the patients given radiation, only four percent more were alive at the end of one year, and their median survival time was only 30 days longer than that of those who received an inert compound (lactose).” Scrupulously honest in their presentation, the researchers, who had clearly hoped to find a significant positive effect from radiation, noted that “patients given radiation therapy generally received better supportive care than control patients. Irradiated subjects had longer hospitalization and there was a general effort to maintain general health and to treat infections more vigorously during the course of radiation therapy. To what extent this affected the slightly better survival experience cannot be assessed.”
  • A group of researchers at Oxford University in England have published (a 1975 issue of the journal Lancet) a paper, which confirms a previous study. Both studies reach the astonishing conclusion that the best treatment for inoperable lung cancer is no treatment. In the confirming study, patients were divided into three groups, those receiving no treatment, those receiving continuous single-agent chemotherapy and those receiving an intermittent combination of chemotherapies. The conclusion: no treatment “proved a significantly better policy for patients’ survival and for quality of remaining life.”
  • Chemotherapies, in general, have been assessed by some to be largely ineffective — or worse. Dr. Dean Burk, while serving as head of the Cytochemistry Division of the NCI, addressed a letter to his boss, Dr. Rauscher, critical of the latter’s 1972 White House statement that “the chemotherapy program is one of the best program components that the NCI ever had.” Dr. Burk observed: “Frankly, I fail to follow you here. I submit that a program of FDA-approved compounds that yield only five-to-ten percent ‘effectiveness’ can scarcely be described as ‘excellent,’ the more so since it represents the total production of a 30-year effort on the part of all of us in the cancer-therapy field.” Even that five-to-ten “effectiveness,” he adds, is suspect, possibly being more than offset (in the majority of patients who do not benefit from chemotherapy) by shorter survival and lower quality of remaining life occasioned by the (widely acknowledged) great toxicity of nearly all approved chemotherapies, most of which, Dr. Burk has observed, are capable of causing cancer in their own right.
  • Dr. Matthew Block, professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Medical Center states (in a letter-to-the-editor, Medical World News, July 5, 1974) that by far the most valid way or assessing adequacy of cancer therapies is by comparing individuals treated with those therapies with individuals who receive no treatment at all. Therapies for Hodgkin’s disease (where great progress is frequently claimed), he says, have not been evaluated in this fashion, with the result that those claims are not necessarily valid. “In the case of chronic lymphatic leukemia as we see it in adults,” he continues, “if the survival time is no better than it was 30 years ago, then we must conclude that there is something we are doing to these people that is making their survival shorter.” Why shorter? Because, he explains, we have now largely overcome those “incidental” infections, such as pneumonia, which, 20 and 30 years ago, killed so many chronic sufferers of leukemia. “Furthermore,” he goes on, “the use of transfusions as well as other aspects of better ancillary care should have increased longevity in this disease, and if it is not any better we must then conclude that [despite] all the advantages now available, indeed longevity has been decreased by treatment [emphasis added].”
  • Three researchers reporting on Hodgkin’s disease in the Archives of Internal Medicine (December 1974) compare treated and untreated individuals suffering from the disease (much as suggested by Dr. Block above). “The group that was given no therapy initially, yet survived long enough to be treated subsequently, is important in showing the extent of basic variation in the natural history of the disease and, indeed, that their eventual treatment may have had little effect on their survival. It should also be noted that, after one year from diagnosis, the survival of untreated patients is better than that of those who received subsequent therapy.”
  • Dr. John C. Bailar, writing in The Annals of Internal Medicine, says that the “promotion” of the latest effort at early detection, routine mammography (X-ray examination of the breast) is “premature.” He documents the carcinogenic risks of such radiation and “regretfully” concludes, “that there seems to be a possibility that the routine use of mammography in screening a symptomatic women may eventually take almost as many lives as it saves.” Later he emphasizes that the “radiation hazards may be of the same order of magnitude as the benefits.” Yet Dr. Rauscher and spokesman of the ACS have been pointing with pride to programs encompassing mammography, citing these programs as evidence of new progress.
  • Finally, there comes news that the cancer mortality rate, which has been going up by about one percent per year for some time, rose by roughly three percent in 1975. NCI and officials at the National Center for Health Statistics have attempted to characterize the rise as illusory, the stuff of statistical artifacts. They have also sought to “explain away” the rise by attributing it, in part, to the influenza epidemic of 1975, the idea being that flu is sufficient to kill sufferers of chronic diseases, such as cancer. But this hypothesis, swallowed wholesale by much of the press, including The New York Times (which further embarrassed itself, in this writer’s view, with an editorial called “Statistical Hypochondria,” insisting that more “illuminating commentary” accompany the next batch of frightening statistics lest we again overlook something like the flu factor), has more holes in it than the Watergate tapes.

Dr. Enstrom points out that the mortality rate for cancer was, during the first ten months of the year “3.5 percent higher for cancer but 3.7 percent lower for heart disease, whereas both should have increased if flu was a major factor.” Moreover, in years when flu epidemics nearly paralleled the 1975 epidemic (1951, 1953, 1957 and 1960) there was, he says, “only a small increase in the cancer rate,” as opposed to the whopping three-fold increase last year.

Meanwhile the National Cancer Rocket clunks along, blissfully far off course, which is exactly where the cancer generals, representing the varied vested interests of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy and virology, want to keep it, according to their critics. Despite overwhelming evidence that most cancers are caused by environmental factors, the obvious, preventive approach to cancer has been studiously ignored by those who control the cancer program. This fact was emphasized recently by a subcommittee of the National Cancer Program’s highest level advisory board, which reported: “There was an obvious sense of general astonishment … that the National Cancer Program does not appear to have accorded an adequate priority nor sense of urgency to the field of environmental chemical carcinogenesis….it would seem that the problem has been accorded a low priority…and, as far as could be judged, to absorb perhaps ten percent of the budget….” The lion’s share of the cancer “cause-and-prevention budget” is being siphoned off in pursuit of a human cancer virus, the existence of which remains wholly unproved after decades of study costing millions. Mindful of this, the subcommittee, which does not, however, have the power to set policy, recommended a sharp cutback in viral research, noting that “a viral etiology for most human cancers is an unlikely eventuality.”

Another National Cancer Advisory Board subcommittee, chaired by one of the most distinguished names in cancer research, Dr. Norton Zinder, microbial genetics professor at Rockefeller University, investigated the viral research effort and observed: “It was only natural that when the SVCP [Special Virus Cancer Program] was formed, a small group of investigators was involved — an ‘in group.’ It now represents a somewhat larger ‘in group’ of investigators. Administratively, its procedures lack vigor, are apparently attuned to the benefit of staff personnel and are full of conflicts of interest …. the program seems to have become an end in itself, its existence justifying its further existence.” In the wake of this scorching evaluation, which went on to specify several conflicts of interest, SVCP cleaned out some of the administrative cobwebs, but Dr. Zinder still doesn’t believe anyone is going to come up with a viral anti-cancer vaccine. Ever. Dr. Rauscher, however, has indicated that he will resist a significant cutback in viral research — which is, incidentally, his own field of expertise and the centerpiece of the National Cancer Program.

Is the situation entirely hopeless? No. Most of those knowledgeable in the realm of cancer politics say that pressure from the public (through Congress) and from those segments of the scientific community which have not already been compromised by the cancer money can, in time, effect the shift from attempted cure (so far a dismal failure) to prevention, where a solid basis for defending against the disease clearly exists. When Congress insisted last year that NCI spend a couple million on nutritional aspects of cancer (a mandate NCI actually resisted) it was indulging in gross tokenism (given the total budget of nearly a billion dollars) but at least it was tokenism in the right direction. More recently President Ford’s Council on Environmental Quality issued a 763-page report which concludes that up to 90 percent of all cancers are caused by factors in the environment, most of them man-made. And this group of scientific experts, at least, didn’t bother to try to justify past mistakes by juggling the statistics. They simply stated that the incidence of cancer in the United States has more than doubled since the start of the century and that there has been only barely discernible improvement in survival rates since the 1950s, the cancer establishment’s self-serving protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.

Short Takes/Coming Attractions

Censored! Suppressed! Expurgated!

Here,at last, is the controversial lead paragraph which was chopped from my (probably) forthcoming defense of “Quackery” in Harper’s Magazine:

“Quack!” The word hisses, erupts, excites emotional shock waves; today, more even than “Communist!” does it excite to near-religious wrath the myrmidons of a monolithic establishment which, though medical and not military, has one-upped even the Pentagon in the recondite arena of tactical “enemy” overkill. Particularly when applied to cancer, the most-feared disease of our time, does the awful appellation become the shrill recheat that unleashes the hounds of hunt.

Actually, the paragraph was cut with the complete complicity of its author, who had secretly long since urrped over the graph’s purple passions and so willingly bowed to what the editors politely referred to as “space problems.” The remainder of the piece contends that the term “quack” is badly in need of neologism; that many of the real quacks hold cushy jobs in government and other “non-profit” places; that various controversial cancer treatments such as Krebiozen, Laetrile and the Gerson diet were never fairly appraised by those who condemned them.

In the 1950s, respected M.D. Max Gerson was hounded, maligned and nearly run out of business for daring to suggest that diet might have considerable to do with cancer. He was declared a fraud by all except his patients and those who bothered to investigate his work. Albert Schweitzer credited Gerson with saving his wife’s life and hailed him as one of the world’s greatest medical geniuses. John Gunther, the author, was similarly enthusiastic when Gerson treated his son. In the 1960s, Krebiozen was the cancer establishment’s public enemy number one. Dr. Andrew Ivy, Krebiozen’s principal champion in the United States was (how soon we forget) one of the country’s leading medical men. He was director of the University of Illinois Clinical Sciences Department; he had been an American representative at the Nuremberg trials and a winner of numerous American Medical Association awards. He had authored more than a thousand scientific papers; the Food and Drug Administration often called upon him to give expert testimony in court. Dr. Ivy had everything to lose and nothing to gain by aligning himself with the Krebiozen forces — yet he did so because his own research with the substance thoroughly convinced him that it had a potent anti-cancer effect. Overnight the same interests that had previously acclaimed him condemned him. He was declared a fraud and a quack, his career ruined. And these calumnies persisted, indeed intensified after a jury, at the conclusion of one of the most remarkable trials in history, acquitted him and co-defendants of all 240 counts of criminal fraud and other wrongdoing brought against them. The trial lasted 289 days and was punctuated by confessed-to government-falsified testimony. The jury, in acquitting, went to the extraordinary length of stating that Krebiozen should be tested, that it did not believe the goverment. But what it couldn’t do in the courts, the cancer establishment carried off effectively enough in the bovine, pre-Watergate Press, persistently planting therein libels and distortions which have left the lasting impression that Dr. Ivy is the very apotheosis of the cancer quack.

The Krebiozen case will be revisted — and perhaps new information revealed — in a future Newsletter.


“Whenever there is a large class of academic professors who are provided with good incomes and looked up to as gentlemen, scientific inquiry must languish. Whenever the bureaucrats are the more learned class the case will be still worse.” — Charles Sanders Peirce

“Doctors are men who prescribe medicines of which they know little, to cure diseases of which they know less, in human beings of whom they know nothing.” — Voltaire

A 19th-Century physician presented a bill against the estate of a deceased client. “Do you wish my bill sworn to?” the doctor asked the administrator of the estate. “No,” replied the latter. “Death of the deceased is sufficient evidence that you attended him professionally.” — Apocrypha

“After a century of pursuit of medical utopia, and contrary to current conventional wisdom, medical services have not been important in producing the changes in life expectancy that have occurred. A vast amount of contemporary clinical care is incidental to the curing of disease, but the damage done by medicine to the health of individuals and populations is very significant. These facts are obvious, well documented and well repressed.” — Ivan Illich

Doctor-caused illness — iatrogenesis — is the subject of noted social critic Ivan Illich’s forthcoming new edition of Medical Nemesis to be published by Pantheon Books/Random House in May. Meticulously documented, this book promises to be one of the most insightful books on the human condition in years. Consider this brief excerpt, which is not mere rhetoric but true scholarship buttressed with fully ascertainable facts:

Two things are certain: the professional practice of physicians cannot be credited with the elimination of old forms of mortality or morbidity, nor should they be blamed for the increased expectancy of life spent in suffering from the new diseases. For more than a century, analysis of disease trends has shown that the environment is the primary determinant of the state of general health of any population. Medical geography, the history of diseases, medical anthropology, and the social history of attitudes towards illness have shown that food, water and air, in correlation with the level of sociopolitical equality and the cultural mechanisms that make it possible to keep the population stable, play the decisive role in determining how healthy grown-ups feel and at what age adults tend to die.

Useful background in approaching the Illich book: Effectiveness and Efficiency: Random Reflections on Health Services by A. L. Cochrane (Naffield Provincial Hospitals Trust, London 1972).

Other recommended reading: “The American Cancer Society Means Well, But the Janker Clinic Means Better,” article in the April, 1976 Esquire by Patrick M. McGrady Jr. This excellent piece by the president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors concludes:

Poor America. Its money-fat, guts-thin biomedical research establishment has more and more to do with paper and abstract mathematics and fear and less and less to do with new therapies or even with people suffering from cancer. If it would only send some good doctors to the Janker Clinic [in West Germany], it might not only learn something about cancer care, but it might get a good lesson or two on freedom.”

Of equal merit is Joseph Hixson’s just-published book The Patchwork Mouse (Anchor/Doubleday) on faked test results at our leading cancer research institute, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The final chapters deal briefly with cancer politics in general.

Fluoridation: 30,000 Excess Cancer Deaths a Year?

A case has been made relating a minimum of 30,000 cancer deaths per year in the United States with fluoridation of water. Dr. Dean Burk, until recently chief chemist of the National Cancer Institute (and one of the founders of NCI) and Dr. John Yiamouyiannis, science director of the consumer-oriented National Health Federation, have gathered data (some of it published in the Congressional Record, entered therein by Representative James J. Delaney, Democrat of New York on July 21, 1975 and on December 16, 1975) which they say establish a probable link between certain cancers and fluoridation. One of their studies compared the tan largest fluoridated cities with the ten largest non-fluoridated cities and charted cancer mortality rates in each on a year-by-year basis. Studies were also made of paired communities, fluoridated and non-fluoridated, in close proximity with one another and thus, except for fluoridation, presumably under the same environmental influences. In San Francisco, to cite one example, the investigators noted that in the eight years prior to 1952, when fluoridation was initiated in that city, cancer mortality remained static. Two years after fluoridation was started there was a three percent increase in mortality; after four years the rate had doubled to six percent; after six years the rate was 12 percent over the 1952 baseline; after 12 years the rate had escalated to 20 percent, bringing us to 1970, at which point the last fully inclusive statistics were compiled. Meanwhile, just over the bay in equally or even more industrialized Oakland, where the water has never been fluoridated, the cancer mortality rate increased between 1952 and 1970 by only three percent. NCI officials have denied the existence of a fluoridation/cancer link but have yet to present data that effectively refute the Burk/Yiamouyiannis thesis. Congressional hearings in May will include testimony on this issue. More on this possible cancer link in future Newsletters.

“Goddamned Quackery!”


That’s what Helene Brown, president of the California wing of the ACS, calls the anti-cancer substance “Laetrile,” which is also known as Vitamin B-17 (recognized as such in McGraw Hill’s authoritative Nutrition Almanac), “amygdalin” and, most commonly, “the stuff you get from apricot pits.” The “war” against the purveyors of Laetrile has heated up in recent months, with doctors who have dared to use the substance suffering revocation of licenses and legal action, with verified FDA entrapment schemes (mailing the stuff to advocates and then arresting them), even with the spiriting away of apricot kernels from the counters of health-food stores. Meanwhile, over the border in Mexico, Andrew McNaughton, who once sought investigational drug status for Laetrile, is sitting tight, watching some 20,000 Americans flood into the Tijuana Laetrile clinics each year in pursuit of cancer cure or control. McNaughton was imaginatively profiled in the Canadian magazine Maclean’s (January 12, 1976) by one Marci McDonald. The piece is clearly a vicious character assassination, a classic example of using information selectively to portray a subject against whom the author nurtures an obvious a priori bias in the worst possible light. McDonald, moreover, makes no serious effort whatever to examine the data that suggest that Laetrile is perhaps at least more useful than, say, radiation in extending the lives of cancer victims while also improving the quality of remaining life. That data — along with a new look at McNaughton and the Laetrile clinics — is, tentatively, the subject of my next Newsletter.


  1. In a less unguent mood, Dr. Watson described the Plan as “a bunch of shit, which characterization stimulated this writer, in a short piece for Harper’s, to conjure an image of his own, likening the Plan, with its elaborate flow charts and golden budget to those Biblical whited sepulchres, “which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones.”
  2. Each of Greenberg’s critics focuses heavily on those few categories of cancer in which noticeable progress has been made since the 1950s; each tries to give the impression that Greenberg ignored this positive data and that his analysis is therefore unreliable. In fact, however, Greenberg, at the very beginning of his piece, clearly describes all those areas in which progress, mercifully, has been recorded. Cutler’s response to Greenberg appears in The New England Journal of Medicine (July 17, 1975); the same issue contains an editorial attack on Greenberg by Dr. Frei. Dr. Rauscher’s rebuttal appears in the Journal of the International Academy of Preventive Medicine (Volume 2, No. 2, 1975) and is itself stunningly rebutted in the same issue by “Abraham M. Sarman,” pseudonym of a government biostatistician whose superiors would not permit him to author the article under his own name. Lamest of the rebuttals is that of Davis at ACS. Among other things, he complained (Columbia Journalism Review, March/April 1975) that Greenberg’s use of quotes from the 1971 ACS pamphlet, “The Hopeful Side of Cancer,” was “not up-to-date reporting.” Greenberg, in response, calls the ACS “unscrupulous,” observing: “I went to the ACS and I said, ‘Give me the literature you currently distribute to the public,’ and that’s how I got the damned thing.” This is the pamphlet, by the way, which calls cancer “one of the most curable of the major diseases in this country.” Apparently Davis is saying that statement was true, i.e. “up-to-date,” in 1971 but no longer is. Curious turn of events.

Received in New York on April 12, 1976

©1976 David M. Rorvik

David M. Rorvik, a freelance writer, is an Alicia Patterson Foundation award winner. He is studying the politics of cancer research in the United States and elsewhere. This article may be published with credit to Mr. Rorvik as a Fellow of the Alicia Patterson Foundation. The views expressed by the author in this newsletter are not necessarily the views of the Foundation.