Friday, June 19, 2009

Still Waiting for Promised NIH Cancer Study


Still waiting for Chester "Godot" Douglass

June 18, 2009 -- It has now been over three years since Professor Chester Douglass of the Harvard Dental School trashed Bassin's (his own student!)[published and peer-reviewed] study associating fluoride exposure to osteosarcoma [bone cancer], with the promise that his paper (to be co-authored by Robert Hoover and Gary Whitford) - to be published in the Summer of 2006 - would refute her findings. We've been waiting and waiting, but still no paper has appeared. Meanwhile, proponents of fluoridation such as

1) Dr. Peter Cooney, chief dental officer of Canada
2) the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC, 2007) and
3) the South Central Strategic Health Authority in the UK,

continue to cite Douglass' letter as if it were a fully fledged research article scientifically rebutting Bassin's findings. So much for authorities who insist upon "peer-reviewed and published" science!

For those new to the Chester Douglass scandal, here is a short time line.

1977. In the wake of the furor generated over the research by Drs. Dean Burke and John Yiamiouyannis showing cancer rates had increased in 10 American cities after fluoridation had begun in the 1950's, the US Congress ordered the National Toxicology Program (NTP) to do animal studies investigating a possible connection between fluoride and cancer.

1990. After a delay of 13 years the NTP finally reported back on the animal-cancer study. They found a number of cancers - all but the osteosarcomas were subjectively downgraded by a government review body, much to the disgust of Dr. William Marcus, who was the chief toxicologist for EPA's Office of Drinking Water. Marcus was fired by the EPA for being too noisy about the matter. Even so, the finding of a dose related increase in osteosarcomas in the male rats, created quite a stir in the media and in dental circles.

1991. Very quickly an article was published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) co-authored by Douglass. In this study by McGuire et al., the authors reported that they had found no evidence of an association between fluoridation and osteosarcoma and even suggested the opposite: that fluoridation was actually protective against osteosarcoma. This article was given lavish treatment by JADA. The beautiful cover, featuring a huge glass of water with a lake and mountain in the background, carried the statement: "Fluoride and Cancer. Study points to protection."

McGuire et al. made it clear in the text of this article that a positive finding of a relationship between fluoridation with osteosarcoma would have serious consequences for the fluoridation program, a possibility they were clearly worried about, as the following quotes make clear:

"An incorrect inference implicating systemic fluoride carcinogenicity and its removal from our water systems would be detrimental to the oral health of most Americans, particularly those who cannot afford to pay for increasingly expensive restorative dental care" (p.39)

"Because of its strengthening action, fluoride has been widely accepted as the responsible agent for the dramatic declines in the tooth decay rates of U.S. children and adolescents." ( pp.39-40)

"A disruption in the delivery of fluoride through municipal water systems would increase decay rates over time." (p.40) (The authors cited the dubious Antigo study to support this claim, PC)

"Linking of fluoride ingestion and cancer initiation could result in a large-scale defluoridation of municipal water systems under the Delaney clause." (p.40)

The authors concluded, based on this small study, that there was no relationship between fluoridation and osteosarcoma, and even suggested that:

"fluoridation at recommended levels may provide a protective effect against the formation of osteosarcoma" (p.44)

This allowed Douglass and his co-authors to reach the final conclusion that they clearly wanted out of this study:

"Given present knowledge, every effort should be made to continue the practice of fluoridating community water supplies." (p. 45)

1992. The NIEHS chose Chester Douglass to undertake further research to investigate the possible relationship between fluoridation and osteosarcoma. It is incredible, that such a sensitive research effort should have been given to a dental professor, let alone one who had clearly articulated how serious it would be for the fluoridation program should a positive finding be found.

Over the next 10 years (or more), this funding from NIEHS kept on being renewed, despite the fact that, apart from one abstract, Douglass had published nothing on this research. A total of over a million dollars flowed into Douglass' Harvard coffers for this work. These are really patient people at NIEHS!

2001. Then in 2001, Elise Bassin (Douglass' graduate student) successfully defended her PhD thesis. In this, she reported, in what she herself called a robust study, that young boys exposed to fluoridated water in their 6th, 7th and 8th years had a 5-7 fold increased risk of succumbing to osteosarcoma by the age of 20.

2002. In a presentation that Douglass gave to the British Fluoridation Society (BFS), he assured the members of the BFS that his work had found no linkage between fluoridation and osteosarcoma. He somehow failed to mention that his graduate student had found the very opposite to be the case. The BFS reported Douglass' claim in their pamphlet, and used it in their continued promotion of fluoridation. There was no mention of Bassin. The BFS pamphlet went unchanged, long after the existence of Bassin's study had been revealed.

2004. Douglass sent a letter to the National Research Council (NRC) fluoride review panel talking about his research (NRC, 2006). Again he claimed that his work had found no relationship between fluoridation and osteosarcoma. Again he made no mention of Bassin's work, but this time he gave her thesis as a footnote. Any casual reader would have reasonably assumed that Bassin's thesis supported Douglass' claim. Douglass sent a similar letter to his funders at NIH.

2005. In January, acting on a tip-off from Myron Coplan, Michael Connett visited one of the libraries at Harvard and located Bassin's thesis in the rare books section. He was able to photocopy the chapter dealing with osteosarcoma. FAN sent this chapter both to the NRC review panel and to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in Washington, DC. EWG called for an NIH enquiry into Douglass' behavior and released the story to the media claiming that Douglass was covering-up this important finding. They also mentioned that Douglass was a consultant for Colgate (he edited their monthly bulletin, "Colgate Oral Care Report'). This triggered wide coverage in the media including an important article in the Wall Street Journal (Begley 2005). However, the NIEHS meekly handed over the investigation to Harvard.

2006. One year later, Harvard exonerated Douglass of "deliberately" covering-up Bassin's work. A video clip from Fox News showing Douglass holding up the Harvard "get out of jail free" card, can be accessed at

In March, the National Research Council fluoride report was released and stated:

"A relatively large hospital-based case-control study of osteosarcoma and fluoride exposure is under way (Douglass 2004) and is expected to be reported in the summer of 2006 (C. Douglass, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, personal communication, January 3, 2006)."

In May, Bassin, with three other Harvard researchers, published her findings in the Journal Cancer Causes and Control (Bassin et al., 2006). In the same issue, the editors published Douglass' effort to discount Bassin's findings and his promise that his "larger" study would show that Bassin's thesis didn't hold (Douglass & Joshipura, 2006).

The summer of 2006 comes and goes. No published paper from Douglass.

2007. The summer of 2007 comes and goes. Still no published paper from Douglass.

2008. The summer of 2008 comes and goes. Still no published paper from Douglass.

2009. June 18. The first day of summer is just three days away and still no published paper from Douglass.

Meanwhile, those who have examined Douglass' proposed methodology have concluded that there is no way that it can actually disprove Bassin's thesis because the measure of exposure they are using is bone fluoride levels - and there is no way that this can test Bassin's thesis since this is based on which year the young boys are exposed to fluoride. The bone level will only give the cumulative exposure after 20 years . Moreover, another extraordinary weakness of this matched case and control study, is that the controls are young men with other forms of bone cancer (other than osteosarcoma). Clearly, if fluoride was to also cause any these cancers - as it well might - that would completely eliminate any significance of this study!

With such huge weaknesses to this study it is quite conceivable that no reputable journal will touch it. So standby for another cover issue of JADA!

Meanwhile, some believe that Douglass was a "stooge" in all this, and that the person really pulling the strings was Dr. Robert Hoover at the National Cancer Institute. It was Hoover who had done battle with Burke and Yiamiouyiannis in the 1970s. It was also Hoover who conveniently found a reason to discount his own findings of an increase in osteosarcoma in young men living in fluoridated counties covered by the SEER registry (Hoover et al., 1991). Hoover was also the co-author of the paper delivered by Douglass to the BFS in 2002. Hoover was aware of Bassin's findings but apparently went along with Douglass in not revealing them in this paper. Moreover, Hoover has been a part of the Douglass study from the very beginning. Currently, he is listed as the Principle Investigator of the Douglass study, and the current funding appears to all be coming directly from "intramural" funding at NCI. NIEHS funding ran out several years ago.

Paul Connett, PhD, Executive Director Fluoride Action Network


Bassin EB, Wypij D, Davis RB, Mittleman MA. (2006). Age-specific Fluoride Exposure in Drinking Water and Osteosarcoma (United States). Cancer Causes and Control 17: 421-8.

Begley S. 2005. Fluoridation, cancer: did researchers ask the right questions? Wall Street Journal. July 22. p B1. Available at

Hoover RN, et al. 1991. Time trends for bone and joint cancers and osteosarcomas in the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program. National Cancer Institute In: DHHS (1991) Review of Fluoride: Benefits and Risks Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Fluoride of the Committee to Coordinate Environmental Health and Related Programs US Public Health Service. Appendices E & F.

Douglass CW, Joshipura K . 2006. Caution needed in fluoride and osteosarcoma study. Cancer Causes & Control 17:481-2.

McGuire SM, Vanable ED, McGuire MH, Buckwalter JA, Douglass CW. 1991. Is there a link between fluoridated water and osteosarcoma? J Am Dent Assoc 122:39-45.

National Research Council. 2006. Fluoride in drinking water: a scientific review of EPA's standards. National Academies Press, Washington D.C. Report available to read and search at


No comments: