BREAST CANCER FIASCO: MAJOR SCANDAL ROCKS NCI; BRODER'S JOB NOW IN DOUBT
From The Cancer Chronicles #21 © May 1994 by Ralph W. Moss, Ph.D.
By now, most people have heard how Montreal cancer researchers faked the data they sent to the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP) of NCI; and how this fraud contaminated more than two dozen breast cancer studies (L.A. Times 4/2). This led to the removal of Bernard Fisher of the University of Pittsburgh as head of NSABP. It also triggered Congressional hearings, with public apologies from top NIH officials.
Less known is the role of NCI itself in hiding this fraud from the American public. It turns out that the facts of the case were known to the federal Office of Research Integrity for three years. ORI sent these allegations to Dr. Samuel Broder, NCI director, who then sat on them.
"These findings were never communicated directly to some of the investigators in the study or to the New England Journal of Medicine, which published the original papers," wrote Science (3/25/94). In addition, "no reanalysis of the study's results excluding the fraudulent data has yet been published."
Although ORI itself published facts about the fraud in its newsletter, not a single mainstream science writer picked up on the story until the Chicago Tribune wrote about it in March 1994. Then NCI issued a too-little, too-late statement and the mainstream media followed suit. Under Congressional pressure, Federal officials are now also investigating another component of the story: why a known carcinogen, the drug tamoxifen, is being given to 8,000 healthy women to see if it can prevent breast cancer [see C.C. #18]. Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) has accused NIH of covering up uterine cancers among women in the tamoxifen study. Recruitment into all studies that were under Dr. Fisher's aegis have now been suspended.
According to the New York Times (4/26/94), "Dr. Broder's job as NCI director has been jeopardized by the way his agency has handled the scandal." The fraud elicited strong response from a number of critics, including Irwin Bross, PhD, formerly director of biostatistics at Roswell Park Memorial Institute in Buffalo. Bross wrote:
"Women and doctors were not only the victims of a dangerous scientific fraud, they were the victims of a cover-up of this fraud by NCI officials, including... Samuel Broder. "National Cancer Institute 'spin doctors' and their 'cheerleaders'--reporters who have become advocates of NCI and its policies--continued to falsely claim or imply that there was nothing seriously wrong with the findings from the fraudulent studies....Who will tell American women the truth?" he asks.