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Letters to the Editor 

Week of August 7, 2002

Smoke Screen

Hype or hope?: As a Bay Area internist, I found your article ["The Revolutionary Test for Lung Cancer," July 24] to be quite a typical "media hype" exaggeration of a complicated topic. Three issues were neglected:

1) Lung cancer is largely self-induced. The idea that doctors are allowing lung cancer to thrive is absurd. We devote many hours trying to convince our patients to stop smoking and prevent it entirely. Also, most insurance companies do cover some kinds of smoking cessation programs.

2) Unproven screening techniques are simply that -- unproven. No responsible medical organization would recommend a test that may cause harm and may not save lives without evidence.

3) Spiral CT is simply not practical. Imagine screening men with mammograms for breast cancer. Men do get breast cancer, although very infrequently. The amount of mammograms necessary to save one life is astronomical. It is very similar with spiral CT and lung cancer. The time between a silent cancer ([the size of a] pencil eraser) and a symptomatic one (half-dollar) is fairly small, probably about six months. To make a meaningful difference, you would have to get a scan every three to six months to catch a cancer early. The amount of radiation in your lifetime would be extremely high, and in a large population you would likely cause more harm than good.

If spiral CT is proven to save lives, all insurance companies will cover it. Until then, you may purchase it yourself at many lucrative scanning companies that feed off of fear and make a tremendous profit doing so. Please do a cover story about the myriad health risks of smoking and then you'll really be doing some good in the world.

Jonathan Albeg

Dogs vs. Plants

Great -- now Matt has writer's block: Apparently Matt Smith hadn't kicked a dog or cat lately ["The Nature of Politics," July 24]. The Natural Areas Program has come under fire from many groups for many good reasons. We have asked for full disclosure and genuine public participation in planning this huge program. We're fortunate to have supervisors who believe in community involvement in parks planning.

For those who have blind faith in the [Recreation and Park] Department and the California Native Plant Society, you are well represented by the "Green Ribbon Panel." This decorative oversight group does not operate under the city's Sunshine ordinance and is packed with partisans of the Natural Areas Program.

For those who still believe in democratic process and Sunshine, Supervisor [Leland] Yee has proposed the creation of a Citizens Work Group to include those of us who have been denied information and access regarding the Natural Areas Program.

As for Matt Smith, if he can't be bothered to read the Dog Policy, or the Natural Areas Plan, or attend the hearings, or give fair opportunity to the opposition, he shouldn't bother writing the piece.

Steve Cockrell
Coordinator, San Francisco Parks Coalition President,
CITYDOGS of San Francisco
San Francisco

He's not only accurate, he's cute too: Thank you for printing Matt Smith's piece balancing the barrage of misinformation from narrow interest groups trying to hobble or destroy the Recreation and Park Department's Natural Areas Program. NAP is a fledgling program with tremendous potential for community-building that is only barely beginning. It would be tragic if selfish people were able to destroy it before it had the chance to prove itself. I want to emphasize that most dog owners I know are responsible people and are not part of this scurrilous enterprise.

What amazed me was how Matt Smith recorded accurately the information with which I was deluging him. I am not accustomed to that degree of accuracy and completeness from journalists.

Jake Sigg
Conservation Chairman, Yerba Buena Chapter, California Native Plant Society
Sunset Heights


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