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A Pharmacist’s Perspective on the Cancer Epidemic

Here’s one pharmacist’s perspective on what’s causing the cancer epidemic. Can you avoid carcinogens in modern life?

Dennis Miller, R.Ph. is a retired chain store pharmacist. His book, The Shocking Truth About Pharmacy: A Pharmacist Reveals All the Disturbing Secrets, can be downloaded in its entirety at Amazon for 99 cents.

What Does a Pharmacist Know about Cancer Causation?

You may ask, “What does a pharmacist have to contribute to the subject of cancer causation?” Would you accept the proposition that pharmacists’ education about drugs and the human body potentially provides us with great insight into cancer causation? Other than toxicologists and pharmacologists, which health professionals have had more training in the subject of the biological effects of synthetic chemicals? Most pharmaceuticals are synthetic chemicals, developed in laboratories, that have never before been seen during the hundreds of thousands (or millions) of years of evolution. Pharmacists learn that even minute quantities of many chemicals (including pharmaceuticals) can have profound and deleterious effects on the delicate biological processes that make up the human body.

Pharmacists, Pharmacologists, Oncologists, and Toxicologists Should Focus More on Cancer Prevention:

I’m surprised that pharmacists aren’t vocal about chemicals in our water and air, and the additives and pesticide residues in foods. Pharmacists have an extensive education about human health at the molecular and cellular levels with courses in biochemistry, medicinal chemistry, organic chemistry, and microbiology. At my pharmacy school, we had lectures in toxicology, even though it was not a full course. Like toxicologists, oncologists and pharmacologists, pharmacists know that small quantities of synthetic chemicals can have major effects on human biology, including the induction of cancer.

Don’t Make Waves:

In my opinion, pharmacists are notorious for not making waves in our healthcare system. We are being paid to dispense pills, not to criticize them or other synthetic substances that are so ubiquitous in modern society. Similarly, oncologists are paid to treat cancer, not to promote cancer prevention by limiting exposure of the population to synthetic chemicals and carcinogens. The money is clearly in treatment, not prevention.

Causes of the Cancer Epidemic:

With that said, here is my perspective on why so many people are getting cancer. I’ve cited several sources (below) that I’ve found most insightful.

M.D. Anderson Cancer Center researchers: “Cancer Is a Preventable Disease That Requires Major Lifestyle Changes”
This article, written by eight researchers at the prestigious M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, has a title that couldn’t be clearer or more direct: “Cancer Is a Preventable Disease That Requires Major Lifestyle Changes.” (Anand, et.al., Pharmaceutical Research, Vol. 25, No. 9, Sept 2008, p. 2097).

Abstract: This year, more than 1 million Americans and more than 10 million people worldwide are expected to be diagnosed with cancer, a disease commonly believed to be preventable. Only 5–10% of all cancer cases can be attributed to genetic defects, whereas the remaining 90–95% have their roots in the environment and lifestyle. The lifestyle factors include cigarette smoking, diet (fried foods, red meat), alcohol, sun exposure, environmental pollutants, infections, stress, obesity, and physical inactivity. The evidence indicates that of all cancer-related deaths, almost 25–30% are due to tobacco, as many as 30–35% are linked to diet, about 15–20% are due to infections, and the remaining percentage are due to other factors like radiation, stress, physical activity, environmental pollutants etc. Therefore, cancer prevention requires smoking cessation, increased ingestion of fruits and vegetables, moderate use of alcohol, caloric restriction, exercise, avoidance of direct exposure to sunlight, minimal meat consumption, use of whole grains, use of vaccinations, and regular check-ups.

Devra Davis, Ph.D., The Secret History of the War on Cancer

One of the experts I admire greatly in the field of cancer prevention is Devra Davis, Ph.D., MPH, formerly the Director of the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. The field “environmental oncology” sends shivers down the spine of corporate America. Davis explains how vested interests have opposed a shift toward prevention. (Devra Davis, The Secret History of the War on Cancer, NY: Basic Books, 2007, inside front dust jacket):

For much of its history, the cancer war has been fighting the wrong battles, with the wrong weapons, against the wrong enemies. 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.

The official cancer effort was directed by leaders of industries that generated a host of cancer-causing materials and products. Their economic interest lay in making the disease less deadly but never in preventing it altogether. The Secret History of the War on Cancer shows, decade by decade, how this leadership acted to downplay research on prevention, and kept research on environmental causes from gaining widespread circulation or benefiting the general public—and how this suppression of knowledge continues today.

…this is the story of a major public health effort diverted and distorted for private gain, at a cost of millions of lives.

The Merck Manual: Up to 90% of cancer is preventable

Utilizing cancer chemotherapy tells patients that the pathology exists within their own body (at the cellular level), not in modern society in which toxic and carcinogenic substances are pervasive.

A more rational medical system would focus on a society-wide effort to prevent cancer rather than focus on treating cancer in individuals. Because the treatment of cancer is so financially lucrative, Big Pharma does not want you to know that The Merck Manual (17th edition, pp. 2591-2592) essentially states that up to 90% of cancer is preventable:

Environmental or nutritional factors probably account for up to 90% of human cancers. These factors include smoking; diet; and exposure to sunlight, chemicals, and drugs. Genetic, viral, and radiation factors may cause the rest.

Is it ethical for drug companies to advertise drugs that treat cancer without emphasizing that most cancers are preventable?

“Lifestyle-related factors and environmental agents causing cancer”
Irigaray, et. al., “Lifestyle-related factors and environmental agents causing cancer: an overview,” Biomed Pharmacother. 2007 Dec;61(10):640-58. doi: 10.1016/j.biopha.2007.10.006. Epub 2007 Nov 20.

Abstract: The increasing incidence of a variety of cancers after the Second World War confronts scientists with the question of their origin. In Western countries, expansion and ageing of the population as well as progress in cancer detection using new diagnostic and screening tests cannot fully account for the observed growing incidence of cancer. Our hypothesis is that environmental factors play a more important role in cancer genesis than it is usually agreed.

Thomas J. Moore: About half of prescription drugs are potentially carcinogenic

Illustrating the synthetic nature of pharmaceuticals and the fact that they are foreign to human evolution is the fact that many commonly prescribed drugs can cause tumors or cancer in lab animals and, in some cases, humans. Perhaps nothing illustrates the crudeness of pharmaceuticals more than the fact that “about half of prescription drugs are potentially carcinogenic,” according to Thomas J. Moore in Prescription for Disaster (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998, p. 96). Why are so many commonly prescribed drugs associated with tumors in lab animals and, in many cases, humans?

Moore states:

Despite the complexity of cancer causation, prescription drugs ought to be ranked second only to cigarette smoking as a cancer hazard. While certain industrial chemicals are more potent carcinogens than any drug, there are few chemical agents to which so many people are exposed at relatively high doses for great lengths of time. (p. 96)

…evidence suggests about half of prescription drugs are potentially carcinogenic. (p. 96)

Is It True that “No One Knows What Causes Cancer”?

The next time you hear someone say “No one knows what causes cancer,” ask him or her “What’s your definition of a carcinogen?” Every few years, the federal government’s National Toxicology Program (NTP) updates its long list of known and suspected carcinogens with a publication titled “Report on Carcinogens” (formerly titled “Annual Report on Carcinogens” when it was updated annually). The list grows with each new version of the book. The latest version lists 256 substances.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released the 15th Report on Carcinogens on December 21, 2021. The Report on Carcinogens is a congressionally mandated, science-based public health document that NTP prepares for the HHS Secretary. This cumulative report now includes 256 listings of substances — chemical, physical, and biological agents; mixtures; and exposure circumstances — that are known or reasonably anticipated to cause cancer in humans

Preventing Breast Cancer:

Is it ethical for drug companies to advertise drugs that treat breast cancer without mentioning the leading preventable causes of breast cancer? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), breast cancer risk factors include:

  • Not being physically active. Women who are not physically active have a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
  • Being overweight or obese after menopause. Older women who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of getting breast cancer than those at a normal weight.
  • Taking hormones. Some forms of hormone replacement therapy (those that include both estrogen and progesterone) taken during menopause can raise risk for breast cancer when taken for more than five years. Certain oral contraceptives (birth control pills) also have been found to raise breast cancer risk.
  • Reproductive history. Having the first pregnancy after age 30, not breastfeeding, and never having a full-term pregnancy can raise breast cancer risk.
  • Drinking alcohol. Studies show that a woman’s risk for breast cancer increases with the more alcohol she drinks.

Cancer Drugs Bring in the Most Pharma Revenue:

Would you be surprised to learn that our country spends more on cancer drugs than any other class of drugs? Drugs that treat diabetes are a distant second. An article on statista.com (Katharina Buchhotz, “Cancer Drugs Bring in Most Pharma Revenue,” Feb 2, 2021) explains that cancer drugs are number one among drug classes in terms of revenue:

Worldwide cancer drug sales are already way ahead of those of other drugs…. This is according to a report recently released by consultancy Evaluate, which analyses trends in the pharmaceutical sector.

According to Evaluate’s calculations, oncology drugs reached $145.4 billion in sales in 2019, almost triple that of the next item on the list, drugs treating diabetes with $51 billion dollars in sales.

The Monetization of the Maladaptation of Homo sapiens in Modern Society:

The treatment of cancer is an example of the monetization of the maladaptation of Homo sapiens in modern society. It is also an effort to locate all pathology within the individual rather than blame the powers-that-be in the wider society for the ubiquity of synthetic chemicals and carcinogens in our air, water, homes, workplaces, and food. This is the real cause of the cancer epidemic.

Pharmaceuticals Are Not Benign Substances:

My perspective as a pharmacist is that a tsunami of pharmaceuticals is certainly not a benign way to address the maladaptation of Homo sapiens in modern society. That observation applies to most of the drugs in the pharmacy, but it applies in spades to drugs used in the treatment of cancer. These toxic cancer drugs are utilized to kill cancerous cells by attacking delicate biological processes that have been fine-tuned during hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution. Why have these highly refined biological processes gone awry?

Cancer Is a Largely Preventable Disease of Modern Civilization:

The public is largely unaware of the fact that there are a huge number of medical journal articles which state clearly that cancer is not inevitable as we get older, that it is not commonly a consequence of defective genes (i.e., the effect of genes, although important, is greatly exaggerated by Pharma), and that cancer is indeed a largely preventable medical condition. If cancer is largely a preventable condition, why does our medical system focus on treating it with remarkably toxic substances rather than focus on preventing it?

Most books and articles that discuss diseases of modern civilization (also known as Western diseases, diseases of modernity, diseases of affluence, lifestyle diseases, etc.) include cancer in their discussion. In my opinion, cancer should be seen as a profound mismatch or discordance between our genetic makeup and the diets and lifestyles typical of modern societies.

The Human Body Can Be Exquisitely Sensitive to Tiny Exposures to Some Chemicals:

To illustrate how sensitive the human body can be to minute quantities of some substances, take, for example, the synthetic thyroid hormone Synthroid (levothyroxine), used in the treatment of hypothyroidism. Even though most drugs are available in milligram doses, Synthroid is available in microgram doses. A milligram is equal to one thousand micrograms. Synthroid is available with 12 precise dosing options, as follows: 25 micrograms, 50 micrograms, 75 micrograms, 88 micrograms, 100 micrograms, 112 micrograms, 125 micrograms, 137 micrograms, 150 micrograms, 175 micrograms, 200 micrograms, and 300 micrograms. If a person with a thyroid disorder ends up taking the wrong dose, they are likely to feel quite uncomfortable.

Do You Trust the Federal Government’s “Maximum Allowable Exposure” Levels?

Even though many of the synthetic chemicals you are exposed to in the air, water, and in processed foods, etc. are in tiny amounts, that does not mean they are biologically harmless or that they cannot initiate cancerous growth. The federal government very often sets “maximum allowable exposure” levels for many chemicals (in parts per million or parts per billion), but I don’t have any confidence that those levels are definitely safe. Some people say that the only safe level of exposure to many chemicals is zero.

Read the “Carcinogenesis and Mutagenesis” Section in the Official Labeling:

I suggest that you spend some time reading the “Carcinogenesis and Mutagenesis” section in the official drug labeling for each of the drugs you take. You may be surprised to learn how many commonly used pharmaceuticals are linked to tumors and cancers in lab animals and, in some cases, in humans.

If you assumed that any hint of carcinogenicity in lab animals would get a drug pulled from the market, you are sorely mistaken. The FDA has massive amounts of data about tumors and cancers in lab animals exposed to human drugs, but it seems clear that the FDA doesn’t know what to do with this information other than require that it be disclosed in the official labeling.

Of course, physicians and patients seem to assume that if a drug is still on the market, then the FDA has determined that it is basically safe. The reality is that the FDA passes the buck to physicians. The FDA assumes that busy physicians have the time or desire to read through carcinogenicity data for each of the drugs they prescribe. But that is clearly not the case.

You’ve been led to believe that these tumors or cancers occur in lab animals only at huge doses. The reality is that many of these tumors and cancers in lab animals occur at doses similar on a pound for pound basis to what humans receive.

Common carcinogens you should know–WebMD

According to WebMD, the top 10 carcinogens are:

Crispy, Brown Foods
Ultraviolet Rays
Processed Meat
Engine exhaust

Stephanie Booth, “Common Carcinogens You Should Know,” WebMD, August 11, 2022

Common chemical carcinogens—The Merck Manual

Here is a partial list of “Common Chemical Carcinogens” from The Merck Manual along with the type of cancer each can cause.


  • Arsenic–lung cancer, skin cancer
  • Asbestos–lung cancer, mesothelioma
  • Benzene–leukemia
  • Diesel exhaust–lung cancer
  • Formaldehyde–leukemia, nasal cancer, nasopharyngeal cancer
  • Hair dyes–bladder cancer, lymphoma
  • Ionizing radiation–almost all types of cancer
  • Painting materials–leukemia, lung cancer
  • Pesticides, nonarsenic–lung cancer
  • Radon–lung cancer
  • Radiation–most types of cancer
  • Ultraviolet radiation–skin cancer
  • Vinyl chloride–hepatic angiosarcoma
  • Alcohol–breast cancer, colorectal cancer, esophageal cancer, laryngeal cancer, liver cancer, mouth cancer, pharyngeal cancer
  • Tobacco–acute myeloid leukemia, bladder cancer, cervical cancer, colorectal cancer, esophageal cancer, head and neck cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, stomach cancer
  • Diethylstilbestrol (DES)–cervicovaginal cancer in women exposed in utero
  • Immunosuppressant drugs–Kaposi sarcoma, kidney cancer, lymphoma, melanoma, skin cancer

The preservatives sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite have been suspected carcinogens for decades:

Even though the FDA very often allows drugs on the market that are linked to tumors and cancers in lab animals, you may assume that the FDA would not allow any chemical or additive in foods under any circumstances if there is reliable data about potential carcinogenicity. You would be wrong in that assumption. Sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite have been used as a color fixative and preservative in cured deli meats such as hot dogs, sausage, bacon, bologna, pepperoni, etc. for decades even though they have been suspected, for decades, to be carcinogenic.

Food dyes may be carcinogenic:

Carol Potera, “DIET AND NUTRITION: The Artificial Food Dye Blues,” Environ Health Perspect. 2010 Oct; 118(10): A428.


In 2008 the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) in Washington, DC, petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban artificial food dyes because of their connection to behavioral problems in children. Two years later a new CSPI report, Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks, further concludes that the nine artificial dyes approved in the United States likely are carcinogenic, cause hypersensitivity reactions and behavioral problems, or are inadequately tested.

Artificial dyes derived from petroleum are found in thousands of foods. In particular breakfast cereals, candy, snacks, beverages, vitamins, and other products aimed at children are colored with dyes. Even some fresh oranges are dipped in dye to brighten them and provide uniform color, said Michael Jacobson, executive director at CSPI.

According to the International Association of Color Manufacturers, a trade association for food dye makers and users, artificial color additives enhance and correct natural colors and “provide a colorful identity to foods that would otherwise be virtually colorless,” as well as compensating for natural color loss during storage and providing a way to quickly identify pharmaceuticals and dietary supplements. Food dye consumption per person has increased fivefold in the United States since 1955, with three dyes—Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6—accounting for 90% of the dyes used in foods.2

For its report, CSPI reviewed published studies and “found some surprises,” said Jacobson. For example, most chemical carcinogenicity studies use relatively small numbers of animals, do not include in utero exposures, and last two years, the rodent equivalent of about 65 human years. Because cancers may not show up until a rodent’s third year of life, corresponding to the time when cancers also are more likely to appear in humans, the two-year time frame for standard bioassays may reduce the likelihood a carcinogenic chemical will be identified, says James Huff, associate director for chemical carcinogenesis at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 contain benzidene, a human and animal carcinogen permitted in low, presumably safe levels in dyes. The FDA calculated in 1985 that ingestion of free benzidine raises the cancer risk to just under the “concern” threshold (1 cancer in 1 million people). Bound benzidene also has been detected in dyes in much greater amounts than free benzidene, but routine FDA tests measure only free contaminants, overlooking the bound moiety. Intestinal enzymes release bound benzidene, “so we could be exposed to vastly greater amounts of carcinogens than FDA’s routine tests indicate,” noted Jacobson—especially considering today’s children are exposed to multiple dyes and flavoring agents and other added chemicals in foods.

Formaldehyde associated with increased risk of brain cancer:

University of California, Berkeley, “Study: Exposure to Formaldehyde Associated with Increased Risk of Brain Disease”

A study by researchers at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health finds a link between exposure to formaldehyde and an increased risk of developing brain diseases such as brain cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Formaldehyde, considered a ubiquitous environmental pollutant (or UEP), is found in many household products due to its industrial applications.

Researchers found that higher exposures to formaldehyde increased the risk of developing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis by 78 percent. This neurological condition is often known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The risk of brain cancer was increased by 71 percent for those also exposed to high levels.

Talcum powder and cancer:


Does Talc Cause Cancer?

The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified talc contaminated with asbestos as carcinogenic to humans. Studies have shown that asbestos-contaminated talcum powder can cause such cancers as ovarian, lung and mesothelioma. The IARC has not confirmed asbestos-free talc to be carcinogenic to humans.

Study results are mixed, and the medical community has yet to say whether baby powder causes cancer. But it is important for consumers to be aware of the potential cancer risks.

Juries are awarding billions to people who say talcum powder products like Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder caused their cancers. In August 2022, Johnson & Johnson announced it would discontinue its talc-based baby powder globally in 2023, but the company insists the product doesn’t contain asbestos and doesn’t cause cancer.

In April 2023, J&J offered to settle tens of thousands of talcum powder lawsuits for $8.9 billion. These lawsuits claim J&J’s talcum powder products caused people to develop ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. Despite the offer to settle, J&J maintains its talc is safe and doesn’t cause cancer.

Should You Speculate Which Chemical or Radiation Exposures May Have Caused Your Cancer?

Of course, many people will be wrong regarding which exposures in fact caused a specific cancer. But that misses the point. My hope is that there is a prominent public discussion regarding the causes of our cancer epidemic.

Let’s put the chemical industry, the food industry, and Big Pharma on the defensive for the ubiquity of synthetic chemicals in modern society!! Let’s openly discuss the fact that the treatment of cancer is immensely profitable to powerful interests which will not easily give up the gravy train that chemotherapy represents. Let’s openly discuss corporate capture of the FDA and EPA. Regulatory capture is a situation in which the governmental entity that is supposed to regulate an industry ends up being captured by that industry.

We need to abandon the idea that “No one knows what causes cancer.” But there are powerful interests in our society (like Big Chemical, Big Food, and Big Pharma) that hope you continue to throw up your hands in exasperation.

The Politics of Cancer:

Whose agenda is advanced by the know-nothing defeatist view wherein people are encouraged to believe that no one knows what causes cancer, and people are encouraged to “fight” cancer by passively submitting to toxic chemotherapy? People are expected to do so without asking tough questions about toxic chemicals and carcinogens in our air, water, and food. People are encouraged to be stoic and resolve to fight cancer by undergoing chemotherapy. In my opinion, people should channel their energy toward fighting Big Chemical, Big Food, and Big Pharma for their roles in cancer causation.

Our approach to cancer in the USA is a political decision to protect powerful corporations and, in general, to protect the massive medical-industrial complex. Focusing on the treatment of cancer (rather than on prevention) diverts attention from the huge corporations that produce carcinogens and other toxic chemicals. And it diverts attention from the ravenous appetite of our medical system for profits instead of human health.

The cancer treatment industry is largely the monetization of the adverse consequences of the ubiquity of synthetic chemicals and medical radiation in our society.

The Merck Manual (17th edition, pp. 2591-2592) says that up to 90 percent of cancers are preventable. If you accept the proposition that most cancers are preventable, then the only logical conclusion is that our medical system is thoroughly corrupt for focusing on cancer treatment rather than on cancer prevention.

As Samuel Epstein, M.D., pointed out in 1979 in his landmark book The Politics of Cancer (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books), winning the war against cancer will take the political will to confront the huge corporations that are responsible for the ubiquity of synthetic chemicals in modern society and who lie about the health risks they pose.

The strategy of the big corporations is to divert attention from the huge role they’re playing in the cancer epidemic. But let’s tell them that we’ve seen through their smoke and mirrors, their obfuscation and lying, their manipulation of data, their attempts to convince the public that all cancers are inevitable because they are all due to genetics, viruses, aging, or improvements in diagnosis.

Should We Passively Acquiesce to the System Rather than Ask Tough Questions?

I wish that the first response of people confronted with a cancer diagnosis were, “I wonder which chemical or radiation exposures may have caused my cancer.” Sadly, our medical system says that our only response to cancer should be acquiescence to aggressive treatment with highly toxic chemotherapy drugs.

The implication is that there is not much that can be done to prevent cancer so we should generously donate to cancer research and stoically undergo treatment with what are, in fact, remarkably toxic drugs. Agents that treat cancer are the most toxic drugs in the pharmacy for the obvious reason that their purpose is to kill cancerous cells.

In Conclusion

Should you speculate about what may have caused your cancer or that of a loved one? Do you subscribe to the proposition that “Modern civilization is the disease. Cancer is the cure.”? Do you feel that cancer is Mother Nature’s retribution? Is it her way of telling us what she thinks of all the synthetic chemicals and man-made radiation in modern societies?

Dennis Miller, R.Ph. is a retired chain store pharmacist. His book, The Shocking Truth About Pharmacy: A Pharmacist Reveals All the Disturbing Secrets, can be downloaded in its entirety at Amazon for 99 cents.

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  • Anand P et al, "Cancer is a Preventable Disease that Requires Major Lifestyle Changes." Pharmaceutical Research, Vol. 25, No. 9, Sept 2008. doi: 10.1007/s11095-008-9661-9
  • Davis D, The Secret History of the War on Cancer, NY: Basic Books, 2007.
  • Irigaray P et al, "Lifestyle-related factors and environmental agents causing cancer: an overview." Biomed Pharmacother. Dec. 2007. DOI: 10.1016/j.biopha.2007.10.006
  • 15th Report on Carcinogens, December 21, 2021.
  • Potera C, "The Artificial Food Dye Blues." Environmental Health Perspectives, Oct. 2011. doi: 10.1289/ehp.118-a428
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