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55 of 59 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2008
The purpose of this book was not to document how many people have died of cancer or any other ailment. This book shows that even when epidemiology and animal studies clearly demonstrated the carcinogenic properties of various chemicals that in many cases this data was conveniently forgotten (at best) and actively buried (at worst). Mr. Kaufman says that the war on cancer has always been about finding ways to treat cancer. Perhaps, but anyone who has watched someone suffer from cancer (and who hasn't) would likely agree that preventing cancer would be a much better way to fight cancer than to solely focus on treatment.

Why isn't prevention the focus of the war on cancer? The short version is because industry and government are working together to make sure the money keeps rolling in at the expense of everyone else. Davis cites examples of doctors and others who smoked and were in denial for decades about the fact that cigarette smoking causes cancer. Why? Because they either worked in the industry (and made money) or they simply didn't want to believe it. Just because you don't want to believe something doesn't negate overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

This book shows how industry and government buried information or failed to act to prevent thousands of cancer deaths. What is even more frightening is that this is still occurring. Very few chemicals are tested by EPA before being approved for the market. Phthalates and BPA are in numerous products that we all use every day. Not only are these chemicals possible carcinogens, but as is becoming increasingly observed in both animal studies and also in humans, they disrupt hormone signaling. This is particularly disturbing in developing male fetuses in which they can have feminizing effects that can result in male deformities and eventual reproductive difficulties. The government wants iron-clad proof before banning these chemicals, but I believe that in the face of current data, reasonable doubt should be the criterion used. As Davis' book makes clear, government will not act unless it is financially advantageous to do so. As products containing banned (in the EU) chemicals continue to be sold in the US, we and our children are becoming the guinea pigs in one of the largest chemical experiments ever conducted. The more the government censors scientists, alters reports and refuses to believe ever-increasing scientific data on the dangers of chemicals we slather on our skin every day (among other things) the less safe we will be and we can expect the cancer rate to continue to increase.
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39 of 45 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 31, 2008
Devra Davis has combined history, personal anecdote and experience, and deep scientific knowledge and research to provide readers with a sometimes chilling view of where we stand in the "war against cancer." She is not afraid to name names of both individuals and corporations who have too often put profit above people. The frightening thing as one reads this is how current the continuing coverups and dissembling are; this is not the story of past misdeeds alone.

There is a lot of information here that needs to be much more widely disseminated and discussed. As we look to a new administration in 2009, this book will be a good one for voters and policy makers alike to read and use for beginning new ways of approaching some of the environmental health issues Dr. Davis raises. As she points out over and over, we need not only to work for better treatments for cancer cases; we need to work to eliminate those carcinogenic factors we can control. As long as factions pit tobacco against pollution against other chemicals, always pointing the finger away from their own actions, the "war on cancer" will continue to be too weakly fought.

Dr. Davis has provided a great service, but I have given this only 4 stars due to the need to tighten the writing of the book. Her history lessons were superb, but too many chapters jumped from one subject to the next without cohesiveness; sometimes I found myself having to go back a couple of pages to review the thread of a topic that she suddenly brought back into her narrative. A little more editing and this would be a standout five star book.

Nonetheless, read the book, buy a copy or two and pass it on to all those you know who are in or outside the field of medicine, whose family members have already been touched by cancer or, as is more and more likely, will be in the future.
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31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
After 50 years of seeing cancer causing substances in the workplace and the environment being swept under the rug and causes of cancer being conveniently blamed on tobacco as a smoke screen by mega-corporations (blaming cancer on a person's lifestyle was used to avoid lawsuits). I am ecstatic to see this wonderful expose on how industry has kept the main causes of cancer under wraps and away from the public view and regulations. Working for a large oil company as their environmental chemist I finally resigned in disgust (if you don't record chemical caused illnesses there is no documentation that the chemical in question is hazardous)only to find I was blackballed from industry. I only have one correction to make in this excellent book exposing the cancer cover up of industry. In the first chapter Devra states that industry learned from the tobacco companies how to cover up the hazards of their products. This is wrong--industry had been covering up the hazard of their cancer causing products as soon as they found out they were hazardous--long before cigarette companies began their cover up and later in the 1970's tobacco became a convenient scapegoat for industrial airborne chemicals such as dust-born DDT and gasoline fumes found at the pump. I am amazed she got her books published. I hope she continues her crusade--She has saved thousands of lives by now by revealing to the public the hazards of industrial substances by raising public awareness.
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53 of 65 people found the following review helpful
on October 4, 2007
I am ordering this book after listening to Devra Davis' interview by Terry Gross on NPR. She provides extremely intelligent, scientifically sound, and reasonable advice about what environmental toxins lead to cancer and why. Recently my older son stated that he had read a summary of research claiming that aspertame was safe for consumption and did not cause cancer. Davis corrects this claim by pointing out that the studies done did not span a long enough period of time to detect cancer. Aspertame often takes up to twenty or forty years to cause brain cancer. This is the kind of essential information we need to know in order to make informed decisions about what we take into our bodies, use in our houses (she also talked about cleaning products), and allow medical practitioners to do with our bodies (for example, it is not wise to allow young girls to have CT scans because of their effect on developing breasts unless health conditions are dire). I highly recommend this book.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on October 14, 2008
From: [...]
Author & Book Views On A Healthy Life!

Book Review: The Secret History of the War On Cancer (Basic Books, 2007)by Devra Davis, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Devra Davis, Ph.D., M.P.H.,author of When Smoke Ran Like Water and The Secret History of the War on Cancer, is the Director of the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and Professor, Department of Epidemiology, Graduate School of Public Health.

It seems to most of us that cancer is everywhere today. We all know someone who either has it or who has died from the disease. There's an underlying fear of it touching us, or even our children. In 1996, I was living with two young children in the center of an outbreak of neuroblastomas in local children. Only after reaching hospitals specializing in children's brain cancer treatment, parents of these children met each other and realized that our city had a problem. Our greatest fear had materialized, the source, never located.

Dr. Davis states that in America and England, one out of every two men and one out of every three women will develop cancer in their lifetime. In the U.S. today, there are more than 10 million cancer survivors. It is the primary cause of death for middle-aged persons, and the second cause of deaths in children. Usually aging is a significant factor in the cause of cancer, but this is not necessarily the case in today's world.

The rates of many cancers are increasing. In fact, the aging baby boomer generation has been referred to as a "tsunami" of cancer. "Cancer," Dr. Davis says, "Develops not because of one unique circumstance, whether hereditary or environmental, but out of the sum total of the goods and bads of our lives.....Where and when we are born and what we work and play with has a lot more to do with whether we get cancer than who our parents happen to be." Of those diagnosed with the disease, more than half will not live ten years.

I've often heard that the dangers of smoking were not known back in the 1960's. I used to crack the back seat window and breathe in the fresh, but frigid Michigan air, as my father smoked in the front of the car. Dr. Davis elaborates that for practically 100 years, the causes of cancer have been known: smoking, sunlight, industrial chemicals, hormones, bad nutrition, alcohol, and bad luck. In chapter two "Natural and Other Experiments," from The Secret History of the War on Cancer a reference is made to the Second International Congress of Scientific and Social Campaign Against Cancer from a memoir by experimentalist Isaac Berenblum. In 1936 cancer specialists from around the world convened in Brussels, Belgium. This meeting was a culmination of physician scientists, compiling all that they knew. Some cancer origins were identified as long ago as the Middle Ages, most work related: mining, painting, smelting, forging, distilling, curing, smoking, grinding, and cleaning.

Our bodies are a living history of where we were born, what we ate, and how we worked. Cancer prevention is certainly a key component to possibly life without the disease. I highly recommend The Secret History of the War on Cancer.

5 Stars
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2008
The Secret History of the War on Cancer would have been written many years ago, but the author was warned it might cost her her job at the National Institutes of Health due to its revelations. This is a very important book and quite enlightening. Written by an insider and scientist, it brings authority to the secret life of big business and our health systems. Be forwarned, it is hair-raising in its thorough analysis of how profits corrupt every aspect of our lives.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on April 24, 2008
This book is a must read for everyone, not just cancer patients. It is quite eye opening what most people do not know about how important health issues are many times swept under the rug by governments. I had suspected many of these results, but to find they are accurate is very discouraging. Had issues been handled differently, many people would not have suffered and died as a result.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on December 8, 2007
In The Secret History on the War on Cancer, Dr. Davis opens the average reader's eyes to how the debate on cancer has been manipulated at numerous levels to delay efforts in reducing exposure to potentially harmful substances in our society. In this well written book, Dr. Davis compiles numerous stories to explain how researches have infused doubt into the debate on cancer as to prolong any action by government agencies. While it is apparent that Dr. Davis's book will be open to criticism, especially from her peers who have been compensated by the manufacturers of well known cancerous products (asbestos, tobacco, etc.,), she should be thanked for having the courage to create a manuscript that challenges the conventional wisdom on how we as a society use epidemiological studies to determine risk: a method that simply counts the dead and does little in preventing illness. Matter of fact, our reliance on these studies is quite revealing. In The Secret History, Dr. Davis does an exceptional job at illuminating how biased research is manipulated in the United States by corporations to delay any action in preventing exposure and prolong profits. While not everyone may agree with Davis's book, this book is a must read for those wanting to understand the current debate in the United States regarding environmental health and how we as a society are not taking a preventive approach to cancer, but instead a reactive one that forces us to fight a disease that many times could have been avoided in the first place.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
The best tool for health is good information put into practice - and Devra Davis has put together in one place a wealth of thought-provoking data that gives you and I more of what we need to make wise choices.

Too many of us place too much trust in corporations trying to sell us something, and not enough in our ability to push corporations to change what they're doing.

After watching what lengths the tobacco companies went to - and still go to - in order to profit through deception, Americans ought to be more skeptical about what other corporations tell us about the safety and benefits of their products.

In The Secret History of the War on Cancer, Davis brings up the excellent question of why we as a nation spend so much time and money trying to treat and cure cancer, and virtually ignore figuring out how to prevent it in the first place. What she reveals about the connections between businesses, charitable organizations, and politicians is an undeniable web that puts money and power over the health of the public. What I learned about Donald Rumsfeld's role in the history of aspartame (see pages 419 to 426) caused me to quit drinking any diet soda with it that same day.

Davis provides thoroughly researched details of the history of the identification of cancer, and shocking information on what has been done over time with what scientists have learned.

I found the central plot of The Secret History of the War on Cancer more gripping than any novel - because the corporate/government/medical decision to focus on treatment rather than finding the causes and working on prevention impacts me, my family, friends, neighbors, and everyone around the world who either develops cancer themselves or knows and loves someone who does.

Until reading Davis' book I had no idea that at one point the annual Pap smear I undergo was such a source of controversy in the medical field. Private insurance companies wanted only medical doctors to do the testing, not unlicensed, and therefore less expensive, staff. Surgeons saw Pap smears as a direct threat to the number of uterine biopsies they would do. As I read in today's newspapers about modern day arguments over "traditional" colonoscopies vs. swallowing a tiny camera, and the huge debate in England over whether mammograms are worthwhile - it is easy to see the pattern repeating. One person's health is another person's empty waiting room.

Davis lays out jaw-dropping cases involving industrial pollution, asbestos, artificial sweeteners, workplace chemicals - all clearly organized and solidly researched.

She has made me a much more careful consumer of products - and of news. In July 2009 the FDA admitted that they removed Dr. Sanjay Kaul of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles from a drug advisory committee after receiving a complaint from the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly. Eli Lilly representatives weren't pleased with Kaul's "independent analyses" of a clinical trial involving their product. (FDA Wrong to "Disinvite" Sanjay Kaul From Prasugrel Panel, Agency Tells Congressman; July 14, 2009,[...])

Because of Davis's work, I pay more attention to what I hear, and I make efforts to be a more critical thinker, gathering more information and working through things logically rather than simply accepting what I'm told to accept. How many Americans have asked their congressional representatives why the FDA has been given the authority to regulate tobacco products, but has been forbidden to ban them?

Personally, I think it would be very interesting to hear all the different responses, even though we've already been provided with the real answer - in Davis' book, and in the court case decided 5 to 4 by the Supreme Court in 2000, which said the FDA didn't have the authority to regulate tobacco products. Page 2 of the decision from "Food and Drug Administration et al. v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. et al.," says: "[the FDA's] express policy is to protect commerce and the national economy while informing consumers about any adverse health effects." Justice Breyer, who wrote the opinion for the 4 dissenters, noted at the time, "The upshot is that the Court today holds that a regulatory statute aimed at unsafe drugs and devices does not authorize regulation of a drug (nicotine) and a device (a cigarette) that the Court itself finds unsafe. .. The majority's conclusion is counter-intuitive. .. Consequently, I dissent."

Note that in 2009 - despite the new regulatory powers given - the FDA still cannot regulate nicotine to the point of banning it to protect the health of Americans.

Read Davis' book, and among everything you will learn about cancer and U.S. businesses, the message that it is not only the FDA whose "express policy is to protect commerce and the national economy" becomes crystal clear. We need to be more vigilant on our own behalf for the good of our health, and Devra Davis' book helps us do that.
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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on October 5, 2007
"Secret History" is radical, risky, poetic and beautifully rendered. This is one of the most important books in the history of medicine, medical education and environmental health that I've read in my entire life. It will set the standard for much future work in medicine. Every school of medical education should make this book required reading. What makes the work so incredible is that it reads like a mystery, suitable for summer beach reading as well.

I predict that Davis' bold book will rise to the top ten and become a NYT bestseller. Davis speaks for the downtrodden, the suppressed, the suffering. Ironically many of these people are scientists and physicians themselves! Davis speaks truth to power with an unmatched style.

Salud Dr. Devra Davis!
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