From The Medical World.
THE death-rate from cancer is on the increase. in the year 1884 the mortality per million living was 563. Twenty-five years later, in 1909, it had risen to 962. In 1934, fifty years later, the figure was 1,563. These data apply to England and Wales; but they are equally applicable to America and other civilized countries. Cancer research, conducted over a long period and at enormous expense, has failed entirely to bring about a reduction in the death-rate from this terrible disease.
Nor is this failure of cancer research to be marvelled at, for it has all along been carried out entirely on wrong lines. The large number of experiments made in any one year has been steadily rising– from 12,000 in 1925 to 50,000 in 1934, and still cancer is on the increase. It seems as if we might lay it down as an axiom that if we multiply the number of cancer research experiments we may look for an increase in the incidence of the disease. And still these experiments go on, and more and more time and money are wasted in carrying them out.
We submit that cancer research is being conducted on entirely wrong lines. In the first place most of the research workers have no clinical acquaintance with cancer. Mr. W. Sampson Handley, one of our greatest authorities on breast cancer, wrote a letter to the Lancet in 1933 in which he stated that the experimental method “ignores evidence derived from human carcinoma”, and asserts the “dominance of the experimental method over the slower methods of observation.
It excludes entirely from consideration clinical and histological approaches to the same problem.” Again, Dr. Lockhard Mummery, the well-known rectal surgeon, has pointed out that there is a “tendency for animal experimentalists to get out of touch with the surgeons and pathologists who are dealing with the disease in human beings.” A perusal of the Eleventh Scientific Report of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund confirms us in our acceptance of these utterances.
We have long since formed the opinion that cancer research may afford a means of occupation for a number of medical men and others who might otherwise find it difficult to earn a living owing to their scanty knowledge of the treatment of disease. Dr. Annis, who at one time was Principal of the Royal Institute of Public Health and Director of its Cancer Research Department, contributed an article to the Medical World (March 30, 1934) which contained the following very significant words:
“Members of our profession have definitely said to me that, if the suggestions in this article were carried out and the results were only 50 per cent. of what is anticipated, then n fact half of them would very soon be out of work.” Dr. Annis is referring to the opposition to the introduction of newer and better methods of diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Is our knowledge of cancer being hampered for the simple reason that modern cancer research provides an easy means of livelihood for certain irresponsible persons?
Are the monies subscribed by the public to the Imperial Research Fund really being frittered away in research, which many of the workers actually realize to be utterly useless? If so, then it is time that we demanded an enquiry into the whole question of cancer research in this country.
Modern cancer research, we submit, has failed to throw any light whatever upon the causation or treatment of this disease. This is not to be wondered at when we come to consider the utterly absurd methods used by research workers. Here is a sample taken from an article published in the British Journal of Experimental Pathology for August, 1934. No fewer than 107 rats were injected by way of the testis or ovary with a variety of substances including phosphorus, alcohol, ether, and silica.
These animals were kept alive for periods varying from 25 to 35 weeks and the results observed post-mortem were necrosis and its sequelae. Just what any medical man would have expected. “No tumours appeared !” How absurd this whole business, and to what unnecessary suffering was this small army of rats subjected by this experimenter. This is certainly not the manner in which cancer is produced in the human subject, nor is it caused by tar injections.
Painting the ears of mice with tar may produce cancer, but it is not in this way that man develops the disease. Then why all these nonsensical experiments on rats, mice and other animals, most of which are bred in these days by commercial firms for the sole purpose of such absurd and totally misleading experiments?.
A former Hunterian Professor of the Royal College of Surgeons, Mr. Hastings Gilford, wrote a letter to our contemporary, The Medical Press (Sept. 22, 1926), in which he says: “One cannot indeed see any indications of progress, so far as the main issue is concerned. The wheels turn, but there is no advance. So far as the main object is concerned, this gigantic effort has proved a complete failure.” He is referring to the organized campaign against cancer in this country.
Again, Sir William Arbuthnot Lane has stated that “The cancer researcher has had a very long innings and there is practically nothing to show his efforts.” Professor Hastings Gilford wrote in the Lancet (Oct, 25, 1930) as follows: “That the research into the cause and nature of cancer is making no headway is obvious to everyone who has followed its drift since the movement began . . . . all that it has to show is a prodigious heap of facts . . . useless to man.”
In the same letter he states very significantly that “laboratory cancer research has gone on far so many years contentedly grinding out data and spinning deductions without attention being drawn to the fact that it never produces any useful results. And now, after a quarter of a century of research, we can see to what a deplorable waste of energy, ability and money this academic aimless toil may lead.
One useful, if negative induction however emerges, which is that the problem of the causation of human cancer is not to be solved by experiments on lower animals in laboratories.” They are a snare and a delusion, and mislead the public and profession.
Recently the Archbishop of Canterbury referred to the “resourceful experiments” of those at present engaged in cancer research. Apart from the fact that he cannot possibly know anything about the subject, what does he mean by applying the term “resourceful” to such experiments? The latter are on the face of them, without result. They lead us nowhere. Like all animal and laboratory experiments in general they postpone indefinitely the day when we may obtain a true knowledge of disease.
Rats and mice and other animals are not humans. Moreover, the methods used to produce cancer in them by injections, inoculations, radiations, transplantations and otherwise, are not those by which cancer is produced in the human subject. So why continue them indefinitely? In fact, we believe such experiments have become an obsession. So long as the experimenters continue to carry on their absurd work they will earn a living.
When they declare that their work is a mere delusion they will be thrown idle with little or no prospect of finding other employment. To be a laboratory worker one requires no clinical experience. In fact, such experience might prove a hindrance rather than a help.
At the moment medical journals appear unwilling to attack cancer research. In fact, most of them seem to laud it. We feel it to be our duty to warn the profession that cancer research, as at present conducted, is a snare and a delusion. It is leading us nowhere. Rather is it misleading us. The Imperial Cancer Research Fund has a high-sounding name, certainly, but what has it done to reduce the mortality rate from cancer in this country? Will its supporters tell us in so many words whether or not the death- rate has decreased since its institution?
Surely it must be self- evident that the object for which this fund was inaugurated has entirely failed. It has failed because the disease is being studied artificially in animals and not in man. Until cancer research is conducted on clinical lines in the human subject no progress will result. We must insist on a halt being called to mere laboratory work on experimental animals. This leads us nowhere, and is merely a wastage of animal life, not to speak of the entailment of needless pain and suffering to the animals concerned.
We are not anti-vivisectionists, but we have humane instincts; and we shall, as members of an honourable profession, continue to decry the infliction of suffering on the lower animals in the name of medical science. Cancer research, as at present conducted, is causing untold suffering to myriads of animals. If it resulted in the cure of cancer there would be some excuse for it, but this is not the case; and, therefore, we submit that it is unnecessary and immoral.
It is high time that some steps were taken to investigate the modern methods employed in cancer research, and to discover the real reason why these are persisted in in spite of the fact that they have yielded no results. For ourselves we shall continue our attack against modern cancer research methods until these have been altered by force of public and professional opinion.