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Diminishing Returns in the Pursuit of a Cure for Cancer

From Rachel Bordoli, T. Colin Campbell, Center for Nutrition Studies
June 2024

What is holding back progress is the resistance of the medical establishment to break free of the reductionist paradigm and take seriously the ever-growing body of wholistic evidence that demonstrates the beneficial impact of plant-based nutrition and the detrimental effect of diets centered on animal protein on human health. As Dr. Campbell would say, what truly matters is that the WFPB diet works, not how it works at a molecular level.

T. Colin Campbell

In this article, I explore what cutting-edge preclinical research on cancer looks like today and what we can learn from viewing it through the lens of Dr. Campbell’s research on cancer.

Clearly, many things have changed in the nearly fifty years since Congress passed the National Cancer Act of 1971. But what concerns me most are the things that have not changed. Cancer remains a leading cause of death. Advances across all biomedical sciences continue to astound, and have contributed greatly to increasing “the present state of our understanding,” but what benefits have we reaped from that understanding? Our ability to treat cancer has not improved, despite an extraordinary amount of resources dedicated to this mission. Last and most important, nutrition remains as undervalued and underutilized now as it was back then.
~ T. Colin Campbell, The Future of Nutrition, p. 27

In 2020, the US spent over $200 billion on cancer care, with costs expected to increase to $245 billion by 2030. This astonishing number does not include the vast sums spent on research. The US cancer research budgets of pharmaceutical companies were estimated at more than $46 billion in 2021, plus the annual $7.3 billion budget allocated by Congress to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Large amounts of philanthropic funding also support cancer research; according to a recent article in The Lancet, over $14 billion of US philanthropic funding flowed into cancer research between 2016 and 2020.

There are a few possible reasons why cancer research might cost so much. First, since modern medicine is founded on the local theory of disease, most research focuses on identifying and bringing to market so-called targeted solutions, such as specific drugs for specific forms of cancer.

Relatedly, medical research has fully embraced the belief that the randomized, placebo-controlled trial is the only way to reach the truth. This approach, invented for testing drugs, makes for very costly study design. Second, since cancer occurs in different parts of the body, separate research specialties have developed around each “type” of cancer. Each specialty has its own laboratories, hardware and software, teams of experts, medical journals, and funding streams.

Third, medical research is heavily focused on treating disease symptoms rather than the root causes. As with all chronic diseases, the symptoms of cancer do not appear overnight but develop slowly over multiple years. Once the human body, arguably the most complex system on earth, has tipped into a disease state, it is much harder and thus more costly to restore health by only treating symptoms. Fourth, because of the belief that advances in modern medical research stem from ever-greater specialization, we have lost sight of the bigger picture and are not tackling the problem in a coordinated, strategic fashion that incorporates everything known about cancer.

If you are familiar with the arguments presented by Dr. Campbell in Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition, you might have noticed that all these reasons are connected to the fact that the vast majority of cancer research is conducted within a reductionist paradigm. Researchers in a reductionist paradigm seek to better understand biological systems by deconstructing complex cellular processes into their parts and to remediate disease by targeting specific elements of these systems in a tightly focused manner. 


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Posted on All-Creatures.org: June 15, 2024
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We began this archive as a means of assisting our visitors in answering many of their health and diet questions, and in encouraging them to take a pro-active part in their own health. We believe the articles and information contained herein are true, but are not presenting them as advice. We, personally, have found that a whole food vegan diet has helped our own health, and simply wish to share with others the things we have found. Each of us must make our own decisions, for it's our own body. If you have a health problem, see your own physician.