The World's Wealthiest "Non-profit" Institution

By Samuel Epstein

Politics of Cancer - Revisited 1998

The ACS is accumulating great wealth in its role as a "charity." According to James Bennett, professor of economics at George Mason University and recognized authority on charitable organizations, the ACS held a fund balance of over $400 million with about $69 million of holdings in land, buildings, and equipment in 1988.(1) Of that money, the ACS spent only $90 million -- 26 percent of its budget -- on medical research and programs. The rest covered "operating expenses," including about 60 percent for generous salaries, pensions, executive benefits, and overhead. By 1989, the cash reserves of the ACS were worth more than $700 million.(2) In 1991, Americans, believing they were contributing to fighting cancer, gave nearly $350 million to the ACS, 6 percent more than the previous year. Most of this money comes from public donations averaging $3,500, and high-profile fund raising campaigns such as the springtime daffodil sale and the May relay races. However, over the last two decades, an increasing proportion of the ACS budget comes from large corporations, including the pharmaceutical, cancer drug, telecommunications, and entertainment industries.

Track Record on Prevention

Marching in lockstep with the NCI in its "war" on cancer is its "ministry of information," the ACS. With powerful media control and public relations resources, the ACS is the tail that wags the dog of the policies and priorities of the NCI.(7, 8) In addition, the approach of the ACS to cancer prevention reflects a virtually exclusive "blame-the-victim" philosophy. It emphasizes faulty lifestyles rather than unknowing and avoidable exposure to workplace or environmental carcinogens. Giant corporations, which profit handsomely while they pollute the air, water, and food with a wide range of carcinogens, are greatly comforted by the silence of the ACS. This silence reflects a complex of mindsets fixated on diagnosis, treatment, and basic genetic research together with ignorance, indifference, and even hostility to prevention, coupled with conflicts of interest.

Indeed, despite promises to the public to do everything to "wipe out cancer in your lifetime," the ACS fails to make its voice heard in Congress and the regulatory arena. Instead, the ACS repeatedly rejects or ignores opportunities and requests from congressional committees, regulatory agencies, unions, and environmental organizations to provide scientific testimony critical to efforts to legislate and regulate a wide range of occupational and environmental carcinogens. This history of ACS unresponsiveness is a long and damning one, as shown by the following examples:(6)

  • In 1971, when studies unequivocally proved that diethylstilbestrol (DES) caused vaginal cancers in teenaged daughters of women administered the drug during pregnancy, the ACS refused an invitation to testify at congressional hearings to require the FDA to ban its use as an animal feed additive. It gave no reason for its refusal.
  • In 1977 and 1978, the ACS opposed regulations proposed for hair coloring products that contained dyes known to cause breast and liver cancer in rodents in spite of the clear evidence of human risk.
  • In 1977, the ACS called for a congressional moratorium on the FDA's proposed ban on saccharin and even advocated its use by nursing mothers and babies in "moderation" despite clear-cut evidence of its carcinogenicity in rodents. This reflects the consistent rejection by the ACS of the importance of animal evidence as predictive of human cancer risk.
  • In 1977 and 1978, the ACS opposed regulations proposed for hair coloring products that contained dyes known to cause breast cancer. In so doing, the ACS ignored virtually every tenet of responsible public health as these chemicals were clear-cut liver and breast carcinogens.
  • In 1978, Tony Mazzocchi, then senior representative of the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers International Union, stated at a Washington, D.C., roundtable between public interest groups and high-ranking ACS officials: "Occupational safety standards have received no support from the ACS."
  • In 1978, Congressman Paul Rogers censured the ACS for doing "too little, too late" in failing to support the Clean Air Act.
  • In 1982, the ACS adopted a highly restrictive cancer policy that insisted on unequivocal human evidence of carcinogenicity before taking any position on public health hazards (pages 509-512). Accordingly, the ACS still trivializes or rejects evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals, and has actively campaigned against laws (the 1958 Delaney Law, for instance) that ban deliberate addition to food of any amount of any additive shown to cause cancer in either animals or humans. The ACS still persists in an anti-Delaney policy, in spite of the overwhelming support for the Delaney Law by the independent scientific community (Appendix VII).
  • In 1983, the ACS refused to join a coalition of the March of Dimes, American Heart Association, and the American Lung Association to support the Clean Air Act.
  • In 1992, the ACS issued a joint statement with the Chlorine Institute in support of the continued global use of organochlorine pesticides - despite clear evidence that some were known to cause breast cancer. In this statement, Society Vice President Clark Heath, M.D., dismissed evidence of this risk as "preliminary and mostly based on weak and indirect association." Heath then went on to explain away the blame for increasing breast cancer rates as due to better detection: "Speculation that such exposures account for observed geographic differences in breast cancer incidence or for recent rises in breast cancer occurrence should be received with caution; more likely, much of the recent rise in incidence in the United States... reflects increased utilization of mammography over the past decade."
  • In 1992, in conjunction with the NCI, the ACS aggressively launched a "chemoprevention" program aimed at recruiting 16,000 healthy women at supposedly "high risk'' of breast cancer into a 5-year clinical trial with a highly profitable drug called tamoxifen. This drug is manufactured by one of the world's most powerful cancer drug industries, Zeneca, an offshoot of the Imperial Chemical Industries (page 511). The women were told that the drug was essentially harmless, and that it could reduce their risk of breast cancer. What the women were not told was that tamoxifen had already been shown to be a highly potent liver carcinogen in rodent tests, and also that it was well-known to induce human uterine cancer.(9)
  • In 1993, just before PBS Frontline aired the special entitled, "In Our Children's Food," the ACS came out in support of the pesticide industry. In a damage-control memorandum sent to some forty-eight regional divisions, the ACS trivialized pesticides as a cause of childhood cancer, and reassured the public that carcinogenic pesticide residues in food are safe, even for babies. When the media and concerned citizens called local ACS chapters, they received reassurances from an ACS memorandum by its Vice President for Public Relations: "The primary health hazards of pesticides are from direct contact with the chemicals at potentially high doses, for example, farm workers who apply the chemicals and work in the fields after the pesticides have been applied, and people living near aerially sprayed fields... The American Cancer Society believes that the benefits of a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables far outweigh the largely theoretical risks posed by occasional, very low pesticide residue levels in foods."(10)
  • In September 1996, the ACS together with a diverse group of patient and physician organizations, filed a "citizen's petition" to pressure FDA to ease restrictions on access to silicone gel breast implants. What the ACS did not disclose was that the gel in these implants had clearly been shown to induce cancer in several industry rodent studies, and that these implants were also contaminated with other potent carcinogens such as ethylene oxide and crystalline silica (pages 609-611).

Above was extracted from Chapter 16 of Samuel Epstein's, 'The Politics of Cancer - Revisited' East Ridge Press USA 1998, 770 pages, ISBN 0914896474.


1. J.T. Bennett. "Health research charities: Doing little in research but emphasizing politics." Union Leader, p.10, Manchester, New Hampshire, September 20, 1990.

2. J.T. Bennett and T.J. DiLorenzo. Unhealthy Charities: Hazardous to Your Health and Wealth, Basic Books, New York, 1994.

3. H. Hall and G. Williams. "Professor vs. Cancer Society," The Chronicle of Philanthropy, p.26, January 28, 1992.

4. T.J. DiLorenzo. "One charity's uneconomic war on cancer," Wall Street Journal, March 15, 1992, A10.

5. J.D. Salant. "Cancer society gives to governors," A. P. Release, March 30, 1998.

6. S.S. Epstein, D. Steinman, and S. LeVert. The Breast Cancer Prevention Program, p. 306-314, MacMillan, USA, 1997.

7. S.S. Epstein, "Losing the war against cancer: Who's to blame and what to do about it," International Journal of Health Services 20:53-71, 1990.

8. S.S. Epstein. "Evaluation of the National Cancer Program and proposed reforms," International Journal of Health Services 23(1):15-44, 1993.

9. The Breast Cancer Prevention Program, p. 145-15 1.

10. American Cancer Society. "Upcoming television special on pesticides in food." Memorandum from S. Dickinson, Vice-President, Public Relations and Health, to Clark W. Heath, Jr., M.D., Vice-President, Epidemiology and Statistics, March 22, 1993.

11. American Cancer Society, Cancer Facts & Figures _ 1998, p. 1-32, 1998.

12. The Breast Cancer Prevention Program, Chapter 6.

13. The Breast Cancer Prevention Program, p. 311-314.

14. S. Kaplan. "PR Giant Makes Hay from Client 'Cross-pollination': Porter/Novelli plays all sides," PR Watch, First quarter, 11994:4.

15. S. Kaplan. "Porter-Novelli plays all sides," Legal Times 16(27):1, November 2 3, 1993

16. R.W. Moss. Questioning Chemotherapy, Equinox Press, Brooklyn, New York, 1995.

17. U. S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). "Unconventional cancer treatments," U. S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1990

18. R.W. Moss. Cancer Therapy: The Independent Consumer's Guide To Non-toxic Treatment and Prevention, Equinox Press, Brooklyn, New York, 1992. See also the Moss Reports on alternative and complementary cancer treatments. (Tel: 718-636-4433: Fax: 718-636-0186.)

19. L. Castellucci. "Practitioners Seek Common Ground in Unconventional Forum," J. Nat. Cancer Inst., 90:1036-1037, 1998.