In 1983, the study designed by Dr. Campbell, and Dr. Chen used the cancer information from the earlier survey, and the types of cancer deaths reported earlier were verified in commune and county hospital records. A trained pool of workers was able to test 13,000 subjects in 65 random counties in rural areas of the country. Because the people ate food grown in their immediate area and weren’t mobile, scientists could analyze what they ate. The scientists could then compare diet with cancer mortality.
What the scientists discovered was dramatic, statistically significant data. For example, the commune with the highest serum cholesterol levels had 473 times as many women dying from esophageal cancer as had the communes with the lowest serum cholesterol levels. There were equally wide ranges among males studied.
Chinese who consumed more protein had a higher mortality from cancer of the stomach and esophagus. They also had greater incidences of cancer of the lung, the colon, and the rectum, and moe leukemia than those who consumed less protein.
Communes where serum cholesterol was higher had more deaths from stomach, esophagus, lung, colon, and rectal cancer, as well as leukemia. Communes that had lower serum cholesterol had fewer of these cancer deaths.
Chinese whose selenium intake was higher were less likely to die from esophageal and stomach cancer. Chinese with higher plasma beta carotene levels also had a lower mortality incidence from esophageal and stomach cancer.
Linus Pauling will be happy to note that the Chinese who had higher vitamin C intake were less likely to die from esophageal and stomach cancer. Vitamin A also protected against death from esophageal and stomach cancer.
I asked Dr. Campbell, who conceived the idea for the extraordinary study, to explain how it came about. I was curious of how he managed to gather and store all of the data. How he managed to save it all safely on a server, and not risk hard disk failure or some kind of hard drive repair necessity down the line. He said it was no problem. He spoke about how he had an expert at the ready. The project was born in his home one evening during a discussion with Dr. Chen, who was studying at Cornell in 1980. The idea originally was to study only the effects of selenium intake on the cancer mortality incidence. Once into the study, however, the researchers quickly noted that a unique opportunity was at hand to expand the study to include many more dietary components.
In the fall of 1983, blood samples, urine samples, and dietary analyses were taken all over China. The blood samples were studied in unique way by pooling samples from 25 persons at each commune site for combined analysis, but leaving individual samples for later study too. The combined samples were analyzed in both China and the United States, and the information was fed into a computer at Cornell. The results were then compared to the cancer mortality (1973-75) study.
We asked Dr. Chen if he was surprised to find so much more cancer in communes whose diets had been higher in protein. “No,” he said. “We expected that because it followed animal experiments that have shown similar increases in cancer in animals on higher-proten diets.” Dr. Chen impressed us as a dynamic professional whose work would be painstakingly thorough. Dr. Campbell said, “He’s superb. I can think of all kinds of superlatives to describe him.”
After the presentation of a study as important as this one, peers question the presenters. Dr. Allan L. Forbes, president of the American Society for Clinical Nutrition and director of the Office of Nutrition and Food Sciences of the FDA, asked about the methods of verifying the cancer diagnoses. Everyone seemed impressed with Dr. Chen’s scientifically sound explanation of the methods used.
Dr. Campbell stressed that all findings so far are only preliminary. The significance of even teh preliminary work is astounding. It will take months before all the data are analyzed and the final study is written for publication, however.
Some scientists feel the public shouldn’t be informed until 100 percent of the facts are studied. We’re glad that Drs. Campbell and Chen were willing to share preliminary data with us. Given the urgency of the cancer problem, we believe that it is already time to eat more of the foods being consumed by those Chinese who had a dramatic protection against cancer in the study. At the Post we are choosing more foods from the low-cholesterol category. We choose fewer high-cholesterol products, such as eggs, cream, and animal fats.
Dr. Campbell told us that, as we expected, those Chinese who ate more fiber had a significantly lower incidence of cancer mortality than those who ate less fiber. It was a particularly good opportunity to make this comparison–the amount of fiber varied from 3 grams a day in some communes to 57 grams a day in others.