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The Politics of Cancer

Romeo F. Quijano, M.D. Dept. of Pharmacology, U.P. College of Medicine President, Pesticide Action Network Philippines Abstract Cancer is not just a dreaded disease, it is also a political question. Looking into the various issues related to cancer would give us a snapshot of the political climate. The overall picture is a disturbing one, something that is cause for serious concern. Something very much like cancer itself. The connivance between big business and government in preventing the people from knowing the truth about cancer and, thus, effectively shutting them out in the war against cancer, is well documented. The stories of coal mining, asbestos, smoking and pesticides are just a few examples. Even international bodies, like WHO and other UN agencies, which often become the arena in the war against cancer are highly influenced by political and business interests. Policy makers, researchers, and most citizens, are pre-occupied with searching for the agic bullet This has been the thrust of cancer management since the advent of modern medicine. Yet, it is very clear that cancer is not caused by a single factor but is an expression of a complex, multi-factorial disease process that is not only physical but also social, and even spiritual, in nature. There has been too much reliance on Western ainstream medicine not so much because of advanced technology of the West, but because of political and economic control of a few Western countries over the rest of the world. The prevention of cancer is hardly given attention, yet, this is the most reasonable thing to do in the war against cancer since most cancers can be traced to avoidable exposures to various man-made factors in the environment including industrial chemicals, food, water and air pollutants, various consumer products, occupational hazards and other pre-disposing social conditions. Big business actively oppose the preventive approach because it cuts their profits and may even kill their business. Governments are reluctant to regulate because they have subscribed to the ree market economicspeddled by monopoly capitalists. Not a few people seem to disdain the preventive approach because it would mean a drastic change in their selfish and consumerist lifestyle. Lack of information and understanding very often leads to a simplistic and defeatist conclusion that getting rid of chemicals and various products that cause cancer is impractical and impossible. Investigating the various causes of cancer and addressing them are decisions that politicians and policy makers make with hardly any participation from the public. Research priorities are determined not by the public health need but by the vested interests of big business, the megalomania of career-oriented academics and professionals and the opportunism of politicians. Management and control of identified causes of cancer are mostly palliative in nature and designed to placate the occasional fits of public outrage rather than a serious effort to strike at the root causes. International rotocolsworked out through the UN mechanisms take too long to negotiate and are largely ineffective because intergovernmental bodies are more concerned with diplomateese rather than the problems at hand. Governments become more an instrument of deception and cover-up rather than pursuers of truth. The burden of proof and corrective action is on the cancer victims themselves and the public at large. The war against cancer is essentially a political process. The enemy is not cancer itself but the socio-political system that puts profit interests over and above health and environment. The weapons against cancer are not new technologies or agic bulletsbut empowered people. People must free themselves from the various shackles of disempowerment: from ignorance, from their selfish interests and apathy, and from the control of monopoly capital and their intrumentalities. To win the war, people must organize effectively and take political action.