The Truth in Small Doses

CURE, Fall 2013, Volume 12, Issue 3

Clifton Leaf explains how we're losing the war on cancer in his book, The Truth in Small Doses.

While an executive editor at Fortune magazine, Clifton Leaf authored a story that indicted the War on Cancer. The Truth in Small Doses became an extension of that article, providing more detail on the dysfunctional “cancer culture” that developed after President Richard Nixon’s pledge to end cancer. For those who follow cancer research, the book is sobering, yet it offers a challenge to rise above the politics of research. Leaf encourages collaboration among researchers, ending the incentives that lead to protecting study findings instead of sharing them. He also calls into account certain cancer treatments that offer little in the way of extending life but are approved because of demand for hope rather than efficacy.

In the book’s final chapter, Leaf makes suggestions to move the cause forward, and more money isn’t one of them. He offers a “challenge of engineering” approach, which would pull together the right leadership, expertise, processes and management to focus solely on curing cancer—a strategy that has proven successful for some childhood cancers.

What he ultimately comes back to is where he starts in the introduction, with the story of his family’s struggle with his mother’s cancer and death at 57 and then his own diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma at 15. Throughout the book are stories of people who have changed the course of cancer and given selflessly to find a cure.

Leaf calls this a “public commitment,” but what comes across is that people will be the cure for cancer—people whose focus is not on themselves but on a cure for the greater good.

Funding given to the right people without bureaucratic constraints will result in bold thinking and innovation that will ultimately lead to a cure.