Animal experimentation's scientific limitations are evident in the area of cancer research.
Cancer research is at the same time a field where replacement methods have an enormous range of applications.
First of all, by its very nature cancer is a disease that can and should be studied at the level of the cell.
Hence, tissue cultures and other in vitro techniques hold the greatest potential for the understanding of the various types of cancer.
Secondly, cancer in its various forms is predominantly a disease of lifestyle.
The overwhelming majority of cancer cases could be prevented with the correct lifestyle choices regarding diet, exercise, drinking and smoking habits, and similar.
Therefore, cancer lends itself to being analysed by epidemiological studies, ie studies of human populations and groups with differences in the relevant habits. Which, by the way, has been done successfully, and has been the single most important element in understanding the causes of cancer and therefore helping in the fight against it.
The results of epidemiological surveys have been so fruitful that scientists can identify causes of illness with enough confidence to suggest preventative action. Often these findings are totally missed by animal research.
A classic example is the work of Professor Richard Doll in the 1970s. He found, by observing the incidence of lung cancer in smokers and non-smokers, that this cancer is linked to tobacco. Animal experiments had previously failed to demonstrate this link.
Other areas of human population studies that have had significant impacts on our health include the links discovered between bowel cancer and consumption of animal fat, and between UV radiation and skin cancer. Unfortunately, over the years animal experimentation has (illogically) gained popularity whilst population studies have become over-shadowed.
For example, let's look at lung cancer and smoking. The link between them was discovered the by Sir Richard Doll by observing patients first.
The British newspaper The Observer on July 7 2002 wrote:
"Thousands of patients who had been newly diagnosed with lung cancer were interviewed, but at first no common denominator could be found. Then Doll decided to follow up the fates of each of these patients. 'I found that in cases where a cancer diagnosis was wrong, the patient always turned out to be a non-smoker,' he says. 'But when the diagnosis turned out to be correct, the patient was always revealed to be a smoker.'
"Doll and his team published their results in 1950, providing the world with a truth which it still has to come completely to terms with, and which was received with either derision or scornful silence. Even medical researchers were dismissive. They had already tried to trigger cancer in animals using tobacco tar but had failed, they pointed out. Only later was it shown that their experimental procedures contained serious errors." (Emphasis added)