The Politics of Cancer

The Politics of Cancer

More than a thousand people die of cancer every day in the United States. For every American alive today, one in three will contract the disease; one in five will die from it. Cancer is the plague of the twentieth century, second only to heart disease as a cause of death in most industrial nations. Although most other diseases are on the decline, cancer is on the rise. The trend has been building for some time: Roswell Park, a New York physician, noted as early as 1899 that cancer was “now the only disease which is steadily upon the increase.” That year, cancer claimed about 30,000 U.S. lives. In 1994, cancer will kill more than fifteen times that many: 538,000 according to American Cancer Society projections. If present trends continue, cancer will become the first world’s leading cause of death sometime in the twenty-first century. It is already the number one cause of death in Japan.

The tragedy is magnified by the fact that the causes of cancer are largely known—and have been known for quite some time. Cancer is caused by bad habits, bad working conditions, bad government, and bad luck, the latter including such things as the luck of the genetic draw and the culture into which one is born.

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