Why We are Losing the War on Cancer

By Joel Fuhrman, M.D. www.drfuhrman.com

Consumer Education and Prevention Must Replace The Mad Rush To Discover New Drugs and Therapies.

The World Health Organization predicts that cancer rates will rise fifty percent by the year 2020.

For those of us who live in developed countries with running water, flush toilets, electricity, refrigeration, and modern transportation methods, the three leading causes of death for the past seventy-five years have been heart disease, cancer, and stroke. Recently, cancer has been declared the leading cause of death for people under eighty years old.

Infectious disease incidence and death rates from infections plummeted in developed countries soon after refrigeration, plumbing, and flush toilets were introduced. Dramatic increases in average life span in many developed nations also occurred as a result of the decline in deaths of women in labor and the decline in deaths from infant and early childhood deaths that came about with advances in sanitation, obstetrical, and perinatal medical care.

Causes vs. Results

It is critical to note that heart attacks, stroke, and cancer are not causes of death. They are the terminal results of a disease process that began years earlier. The primary causes of these three deadly diseases are poor diet, smoking, alcohol consumption, and physical inactivity.

A 1993 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association1 ranked the actual causes of death in the 1990s as follows: 1) tobacco, 2) poor diet and physical inactivity, and 3) alcohol consumption. Fast forward 15 years to the present, and we have even greater problems, with an explosion of obesity, diabetes, and other diseases of nutritional ignorance.

The problem we are seeing today is the occurrence of obesity and diabetes at an earlier age and in much greater proportions of our population. It forebodes an explosion in heart disease and cancer in upcoming years. This will likely be the first generation of children in modern history whose average life span will be significantly shorter compared with their parents. With the dramatic increase in soft drinks, cheese, convenience foods, and fast foods, the future health of America and our economic system could be severely compromised due in part to rapidly sky-rocketing medical costs. Many American companies are already in financial difficulties and are being forced to move overseas secondary to rapidly escalating health-care costs.

The Diet/Disease Link

Data collected in the last forty years has generally led to the same conclusion: a high-calorie, high-fat, low fiber, and low-nutrient diet increases heart attacks, strokes, and cancer risk at all ages. An increasing number of scientific organizations in the United States—including the National Cancer Society, the American Cancer Society, and the Department of Health and Human Services—support this conclusion and have issued (somewhat tepid) dietary guidelines for the general public aimed at reducing the risk of cancer as well as other chronic diseases.

The chief response of modern society to the growth of these diseases of dietary foolishness has been to invest billions of dollars into the development and testing of a seeming never-ending stream of drugs to treat cancer patients and high-tech surgical techniques to treat heart patients. But after pouring these billions into charities and other institutions that support this drug and surgery approach, the sad fact is that the death rate continues unabated. This ill-advised search for “cures” for easily-preventable diseases is not unlike the search for the fountain of youth in the fourteenth century.

Failure Of Treatment

Excluding the high rate of lung cancer in smokers, the two most prevalent cancers in modern societies are breast and colon cancer in women, and prostate and colon cancer in men. Both the incidence of, and the death rate from, these common cancers have shown no significant decrease between 1930 and today. In other words, modern cancer detection and treatment methods have not changed the percentage of people dying from these common cancers.2 For example, in spite of the dramatic rise in the use of mammograms and interventions to treat breast cancer, the same number of women develop and die from breast cancer, at the same general age, as they did thirty years ago.We have lost the war on cancer.

Cancer Rates To Soar

Cancer rates are set to increase at an alarming rate globally, according to the World Cancer Report. This comprehensive global examination of cancer presented by the World Health Organization predicts rates to increase 50 percent by 2020. This may be good news for drug companies that will profit from the increased sale of cancer therapies as a result of the worldwide spread of cancer-promoting diet, sedentary lifestyles,and smoking. But it is bad news for the rest of us. Right now the chance of getting cancer in a developed country with a high consumption of meat, dairy, and processed food is over twice as high as developing nations. However, with increasing wealth and the exportation of America’s toxic diet, the gap is rapidly narrowing.

New Approach Needed

Clearly, the time is ripe to direct our attention to the causes of disease. Both cancer and heart disease can be effectively prevented. If we take a careful look at the scientific evidence, there is no doubt that the most powerful weapon we have to defeat the current epidemic of deaths in the modern world is nutritional excellence. We must redirect our efforts away from detection and treatment (which most often is futile) and toward prevention.

If the billions of dollars spent on cancer drug research were redirected into campaigns of public awareness and education about the nutritional and environmental causes of cancer, we could have a nation with a bright new health future. I look forward to the day when scientists, physicians, governments, businesses, and educators work together to educate the public that they do not have to die needlessly.


1. Forge W, McGinnis M. Actual causes of death in the United States. JAMA 1994:270:2207- 2212.

2. Greenlee RT, Murray T, Bolden S, Wingo PA. Cancer Statistics 2000. CA Cancer J Clin 2000 Jan-Feb;50(1):7-33.


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