The American Cancer Society is surrounded by controversy.
On Saturday, April 8, Kenyon College will host Relay For Life, an annual event intended to raise awareness for cancer prevention. Relay For Life is affiliated with The American Cancer Society (ACS), the largest nonprofit foundation for the fight against cancer. While the widespread support for Relay for Life and the ACS give the impression that this organization is helping fight cancer and is well deserving of monetary donations, controversies surrounding ACS organization prove otherwise.
As someone directly affected by cancer, I am not putting down those using Relay to assist in the fight against cancer. I am, however, urging donations and time go instead to organizations that are doing significantly more to help this cause. Since its founding, the ACS has been focused on cancer prevention. Two of its biggest platforms for prevention are receiving yearly mammograms starting at age 45 and decreasing smoking habits. Encouraging mammograms is deeply troubling because it has been proven that mammographies in non-high risk women, especially those under the age of 50, do not lead to an increased breast cancer survival rate and, due to radiation, may even cause cancer. ACS’s outdated encouragement of mammograms has been addressed only by pushing back the suggested age to start receiving yearly mammograms from 40 to 45.
The ACS encourages people to stop smoking as cancer prevention, which is less damaging than the support of mammograms. But it does further perpetuate myths related to lung cancer. About 60 to 65 percent of all new lung cancer diagnoses are among people who have never smoked or are former smokers and 10 to 15 percent of lung cancers are found in those who have never smoked. With the rise of genetic mutation-based lung cancer in young women according to the LUNGevity Foundation, the myth that lung cancer is directly correlated to cancer is not acceptable. It is not harmful to encourage people to stop smoking, but victim blaming has led to lung cancer receiving only six percent of federal funding even though it is the cancer with the highest mortality rate by a large margin. In 2009, 17 percent of the ACS’s $1 billion budget was allotted to prevention, predominantly smoking cessation; however, lung cancer deaths have been rising steadily in the last 20 plus years.
The ACS also ignores the scientific findings on the effect of food and toxins on cancer. In reports from 2005-2010 the ACS does not note the 11 carcinogens identified in the 2004 National Toxicology Program (NTP) Report, besides nine of the same also identified in the 2010 President’s Cancer Panel (PCP) Report as potentially causing cancer.
Unfortunately, there is also vast controversy surrounding how the ACS spends donated money. The ACS is widely considered to be one of the wealthiest non-profit organizations in the world. Former CEO John R. Seffrin received a $2.4 million salary/compensation from the charity for the 2009-2010 fiscal year. There are a number of related financial controversies involving ACS, more than can reasonably be listed in this piece according to Charity Watch.
When considering Relay For Life at Kenyon this year, try to stay aware of the scientific findings the ACS does not acknowledge and avoid perpetuating myths that can be harmful to the fight against cancer. In the future, or instead of participating in Relay, donate to charities that have higher cure rates, more financial transparency and superior scientifically backed preventative statements.
Claire Preston ’20 is currently undeclared from Butler, Pennsylvania. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.