Prevention Is Better

Cancer is not like love; it is much better to never have had any.

If we are worried about cancer, and consider it detrimental, then the single most important activity that people can engage in is its prevention. This is particularly true of the types of cancers that are highly lethal, such as leukemia and lung cancer. There isn't even a comparison between a person who has been cured of cancer, as against one who never had it. In contrast to some aspects of cancer therapy, where little can be done, an immense amount can be accomplished in cancer prevention. Strong anti-cigarette advertising legislation may have prevented many times the number of lung cancers than all of the physicians in the entire world will be able to cure in the next generation. In fact, anyone who has had any hand at all in inducing people to stop smoking can and should take credit for having prevented some deaths. I owe the fact that I stopped smoking, approximately fifteen years ago, to the statisticians who correlated smoking and lung cancer incidence and literally frightened me out of the habit. Thank you Drs. Doll, Hammond, Horn, et al.

There is no longer any doubt that x-irradiation and radiation produced by radioactive materials can cause leukemia and a variety of other cancers. I repeat: There is no question that radiation produces cancer in man and animals. The only question that exists is how much radiation does it take to produce a tumor of a specific type?

When I was considering obtaining a machine for irradiating mice, I considered the possibility of using a high voltage x-ray machine or the much cheaper cobalt source (some radioactive cobalt in a lead shield). I discussed the matter with our radiation safety officer. He pointed out to me that you can always turn an x-ray machine off, while the cobalt source continues to emit radiation. In case of an accident, the cobalt was potentially capable of doing much more damage. This comparison also holds for the pollution of our environment with radiation. When the amounts of medical and dental x-ray to which the population is exposed is reduced, the number of cancers caused by them will also go down. There is some indication that this decrease might already have started in the incidence of leukemia. In the last several years, the incidence of leukemia has actually gone down. There is some speculation that this might be due to the more judicious use of medical and dental x-ray; a plausible explanation. This is not likely to happen with regard to the radioactive isotopes that have entered the atmosphere as a result of atomic testing, and pollution of water and air by indiscriminate users of radioisotopes. Carbon is one of the building blocks of all living material, and carbon14 has a half-life of over 5,000 years. This means that, of the radioactive carbon14 that is presently in our environment, half of it will still he around 5,000 years from now. This is a terrible legacy to leave those who will come after us. If we stop polluting the air with non-radioactive pollutants, it is a matter of time before most of these substances disappear from the environment; a relatively short time compared to how long it would take for the mass of radioactive isotopes to disappear. There is an interesting commentary about how our government functions: The National Cancer Institute is trying to prevent and cure cancer while the activities of the Atomic Energy Commission are instrumental in causing it.

It is noteworthy that the dread disease smallpox is still incurable; but it is no longer a serious problem in this country because it can be prevented.
It is, unfortunately, easier to get money to "cure" a disease than to "prevent" one.

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