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The Secret History of the War on Cancer by Dr. Devra Davis


For much of its history, the cancer war has been fighting the wrong battles, with the wrong weapons, against the wrong enemies. The Secret History of the War on Cancer by Dr. Devra Davis shows, decade by decade, how the campaign has targeted the disease and left off the table the things that cause it—tobacco, alcohol, the workplace, and other environmental hazards. Conceived in explicitly military terms, the effort has focused on defeating an enemy by detecting, treating, and curing disease. Overlooked and suppressed was any consideration of how the world in which we live and work affects whether we get cancer. The result is appalling: over 10 million preventable cancer deaths over the past thirty years. This has been no accident.

Newsweek named The Secret History of the War on Cancer its must read pick for the week of October 8, 2007!

Also selected as one of the best books of the year by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Toronto Globe and Mail.



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Click here to watch video of Devra Davis talking about her book The Secret History of the War on Cancer on C-SPAN 



“In 1900, infectious diseases were the leading cause of death in the United States; in our current age of pasteurized milk and purified water, this is no longer the case. The focus now has shifted to the chronic maladies of aging — cancer, heart disease and stroke. Tens of billions of dollars are being thrown into crusades against these killers, with the so-called ‘war on cancer’ capturing the lion’s…” — Washington Post

“[G]rim but fascinating reading….Davis proposes a kind of truth-and-reconciliation approach to get industry and public-health experts mutually involved. But she notes that, unfortunately, it’s simply not happening fast enough….One can hope, however, that Davis’s book will assure that proper attention is paid.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Davis writes with passion, driven by the conviction that premature deaths among her family members resulted from exposure to industrial toxins….Davis presents a powerful call to action; recommended.” — Library Journal

“I am reading Dr. Davis’s book. With each page, I become more incensed — at the doctors, the ACS, the chemical companies, and the government. Before I opened the first page, I had an inkling of what had occurred, but Dr. Davis’s book opened my eyes wide. I am sickened by what happened in the War on Cancer, and I thank Dr. Davis for this timely, well-written, and stunning exposé.  At my request, my local library ordered a copy of the book. I also intend to buy and send a copy to my congressional representative, Mark Udall, and ask him what he plans to do to stop the riotous use and dumping of toxins into our environment and to protect the health of people with jobs that produce these vile chemicals and environmental toxins. Please extend my appreciation to Dr. Davis” — Patricia, Colorado

“A breathtaking, impeccably documented wake-up call for what we should have done and what we must do!” — Teresa Heinz Kerry, co-author of This Moment on Earth

“With the mastery of a great writer, Devra Davis takes the reader inside the successes, the failures, and the ambiguity of research on cancer.” — Lorenzo Tomatis, MD, Former Director, International Agency for Research on Cancer, World Health Organization

“The Secret History of the War on Cancer is a masterful combination of scientific insights and investigative journalism.  If you want to know why one in three Americans develops cancer, read this book.” — Mitchell Gaynor, MD, President, Gaynor Integrative Oncology


  • As early as 1936, the world’s leading cancer scientists understood that tobacco, diagnostic and solar radiation, benzene, and hormones caused cancer. The preparation and conduct of World War II with its focus on immediate survival effectively sidetracked these early findings of cancer hazards.
  • Many more young people (those under 40 years of age) are getting cancer. One of the reasons may be the excessive use of x-rays in infants and children, and our failures to reduce exposures to other cancer hazards like those in urban air or agents that can leach from some plastics. Earlier this year, the American College of Radiology advised against unnecessary and excessive use of CT and other forms of diagnostic radiation in children, warning that this will further add to the growing cancer burden in young people today.
  • When first reports emerged that coke oven workers had higher rates of lung cancer in the 1970s, some suggested that this was because most of them were black. Not until similar findings showed up in white Mormon workers five years later, was the link between coke oven work and lung cancer established. While one in eight Americans today is black, one in three works in a blue collar job, and one in five lives within two miles of a hazardous waste site. This increased environmental burden has never been considered when trying to understand why rates of prostate, breast, and colo-rectal cancer are so much higher in blacks than whites.
  • The life-saving test for cervix cancer, called the Pap smear, was not put into use for more than a decade after it was shown to save lives, because of fears that it would undermine the private practice of medicine. These delays led to the deaths or unnecessary surgery of millions of women, who succumbed to an illness that could have been avoided.


Dr. Davis on CSPAN | Watch

Oprah Book Review | Read