Cancer centres and clinics cover the contemporary medical scene like a – well, like a cancer. It is a fantastic business, if you’re in the business. In the USA, 1200 cancer centres and a handful of pharma companies make over $140 billion per year from selling cancer treatments (1).
It is bad business, however, for the patients.
1,735,350 Americans are diagnosed with cancer each year, and every year about a third of that number die of their disease. The treatment is so expensive and health insurance so shoddy that in 2014, cancer patients were forced to spend $4 billion of their own money on their own care (1).
This is why cancer patients are 2.5 times more likely to declare bankruptcy than healthy people (roughly 42% of them go bankrupt within 2 years of diagnosis), and why so many end up dying in poverty, on the streets (1).
In short, cancer care is a disgusting, broken and malignant system. The cancer centres promise the earth (many of them have been repeatedly busted for false advertising), and deliver medical failure and penury. It is also an unaffordable system. The costs of treatment continue to rise as more and more people develop cancer, and the drugs become more ‘sophisticated’.
And all the while the USA debt clock continues to tick towards a financial Armageddon that will likely plunge the world into penury. It will be Lehmann on steroids, and the collapse will start the second the petro$ loses its reserve currency status and neocon sociopaths such as John Bolton finally get the war they have been gagging for.
Even if Putin and Trump manage to pull back form the brink the cancer problem will not go away, and will continue to get worse. To begin with, Americans (and Europeans) are ageing more rapidly than ever before (2). As noted previously their life expectancy is in continuous decline, and they will soon drop out of the top 50 longest-lived nations. Cancer death stats have been improving; they are 25% down since 1991, due largely to anti-smoking campaigns and improved detection. However, although the incidence of cancer has remained roughly at 0.5% of men and women per year (3), these figures will increase because cancer risk is increased by diabetes and by obesity, both of which are hitting all-time highs.
We could create a more effective, more humane and more stable system by focussing on prevention. We could move the world, if we had the right leverage. But where is the fulcrum?
The fulcrum? Look not to Big Pharma, but to Big Phood.
Thanks to the multinational food companies (Coca Cola, General Foods, Kelloggs, Mars, Nabisco, PepsiCo etc), North Americans consume staggering amounts of processed and ultra-processed foods. In fact, well over half all the foods they eat are ultra-processed, and these ultra-processed foods make the people who consume them fat, diabetic and cancerous.
Ultra-processed foods increase the risk of cancer via three inter-twined routes.
Firstly, they have a high calorie density and are designed to be addictive (4); so consumers take on more calories than they need, leading to obesity and diabetes – which increases the risk of cancer by a fifth in men and by a quarter in women (5). Secondly, these foods are depleted in key anti-inflammatory nutrients and rich in pro-inflammatory chemicals; and by creating a pro-inflammatory environment in the consumers’ bodies, they make cancers more aggressive. Thirdly, they are depleted in a wide range of secondary phytonutrients that fight cancer cells, leaving our anti-cancer defences starved and dysfunctional.
Fast foods tend to cause slow death, and when it comes to cancer the relationship is rather linear. In a recent large and prospective study, each 10% increase in the consumption of ultra-processed foods lead to a 10% increase in cancer (6).
When this report came out the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) immediately responded, calling it ‘ a scary story with little support’ and telling consumers ‘not to worry about those doughnuts you ate last week.’ I am not sure, however, that we can trust this statement. ACSH bills itself as an independent science-based organisation, but they are heavily dependent on funding by the companies whose products they review and generally defend.
ACSH donors in the last 5 years include big oil companies Chevron and Exxon-Mobile, the drug behemoth Bristol-Myers-Squibb, tobacco giants BAT, Altria and Phillip Morris International, the agri-chemical conglomerates Bayer Crop Science, Monsanto, Dow-Agra and Syngenta, the health food companies Dr Pepper / Snapple, Pepsi, Coca Cola and McDonalds, and a bunch of unsavory foundations which front for industry, high finance and the Deep State.
I have worked for some of these names in the past and I can assure you that they are not philanthropic institutions. They expect returns on their investments. They do not give funds to individuals or Councils which they do not control, and who might criticize them.
There is a reason why ACSH does not disclose its funding, and in fact the details of their roster of clients are only known because they were leaked to Mother Jones (7). ACSH are revealed as being deeply and probably fatally compromised, and their bland reassurances are not convincing.
When it comes down to corporate statements vs defined pharmacology, the science wins out for me. Every time. And now back to cancer…
Americans eat more ultra-processed foods than any other nation on earth, because even though they might know better, the food universe is tilted against them.
Of course time- and cash-poor consumers opt for junk food. A third of US citizens eat fast food on any given day (8). Like the ultra-processed and ready-cook foods they convenient, addictive, artificially cheap – and they suit the needs of a consumerate that has been largely banned from the kitchen. Very few schools teach sensible nutrition, let alone home-making skills such as food preparation. Uncritical feminists were taught to hate ‘domestic science’, blissfully unaware that they were being propagandised by by powerful multinational food companies that cannot profit from selling unprocessed and basic foodstuffs.
Now the road takes another dip downwards. Thanks to an extremely powerful food lobby, government subsidies to agriculture have created a situation where basic foods are in many cases MORE expensive than processed ones. If you want to buy basic produce and cook it yourself, you will have to pay for the privilege at the check-out and via the additional time it will take to prepare the food. You will also often have to spend more time looking for the basics, as retailers don’t want to stock low margin food any more than the food producers want to produce them.
The supermarkets understand the market place very well, and have responded by producing large numbers of ‘meal kits’ that assemble the constituents of a meal that the buyer can assemble at home. These are the modern equivalent of the old Betty Crocker cake mixes. If you remember, the BC company profited handsomely by removing powdered egg from their mixes to cut costs, but at the same time persuading housewives that if they were to add the egg themselves, they would still be baking cakes just like grandmother used to do.
The meal kits have an excellent profit margin (over the basic ingredients), and because they are pre-processed, they tend to contain high and sometimes very high levels of lipopolysaccharides (9) due to gram-negative bacterial contamination. As lipopolysaccharides are potent pro-inflammatory agents, this cannot be considered a good thing; the more inflammation, the more likely cancer is to grow and to spread (10).
If we can force the food multinationals to take some responsibility – ANY responsibility – for the appalling damage they continue to inflict on our individual and public health – our world will be a lot less cancerous.
If we can get our diets right, the evidence suggests that we can reduce the burden of cancer by up to 90% (11); and force the cancer business into well-deserved remission.
- Hulsegge G, Picavet HS, Blokstra A, Nooyens AC, Spijkerman AM, van der Schouw YT, Smit HA, Verschuren W. Today’s adult generations are less healthy than their predecessors: generation shifts in metabolic risk factors: the Doetinchem Cohort Study. Eur J Prev Cardiol. 2014 Sep;21(9):1134-44
- The Psychology of Overeating; Food and the Culture of Consumerism. Cargill K, Bloomsbury Academic (October 22, 2015)
- Giovannucci E, Harlan DM, Archer MC, Bergenstal RM, Gapstur SW, Habel LA, Pollak M, Regensteiner JG, Yee D. Diabetes and Cancer. A concensus report. Diabetes Care. 2010 Jul; 33(7): 1674–1685
- Fiolet T et al. Consumption of ultra-processed foods and cancer risk: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort. BMJ 2018;360:k322
- Fryar CD, Hughes JP, Herrick KA, Ahluwalia N. Fast Food Consumption Among Adults in the United States, 2013–2016. NCHS Data Brief No. 322, October 2018
- Erridge C. Stimulants of Toll-like receptor (TLR)-2 and TLR-4 are abundant in certain minimally-processed vegetables. Food Chem Toxicol. 2011 Jun;49(6):1464-7.
- Crusz SM, Balkwill FR. Inflammation and cancer: advances and new agents. Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology 12:584–596 (2015)
- Clayton P, Rowbotham J. How the mid-Victorians worked, ate and died.
Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2009 Mar;6(3):1235-53.