The White House is expected to name Dr. Arthur C. Upton, a world-renowned radiation expert specializing in the causes of cancer, to be director of the National Cancer Institute, sources said last night.

Officials of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare reportedly got an acceptance Tuesday from Upton, 54, professor of pathology in the School of Basic Health Sciences at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

HEW referred inquiries to the White House, which said it had received no papers relating to the appointment. Upton could not be reached. An official of the National Institutes of Health said the appointment had not been "officially announced."

Sources said they would look to Upton to put heavy emphasis on prevention rather than cure of cancer, which, experts say, is predominantly caused by environmental chemicals and other substances, including cigarette smoke. Deaths attributed to cancer run at a rate exceeding 1,000 per day.

Under the previous director, Dr. Frank J. Rauscher Jr., the institute American Cancer Society to X-ray 270,000 women for possible breast cancer.

Upton headed a committee that reviewed the program and concluded last July that mammography possibly causes more new cases of breast cancer in women under 50 than the number of deaths it may prevent.

Last month, the institute adopted a recommendation from its Cancer Control Advisory Committee to stop X-rays of under-50 women, who comprise 75 per cent of the women enrolled.

Rauscher left the institute, which has a current budget of $815 million, about half of it for research, last Nov. 1 after efforts failed to increase his $37,800 salary to a level that he felt sufficient to finance the college education of his children. He became senior vice president of the Cancer Society at much higher salary.

He took office in May, 1972, with a directive from President Nixon to look for a cure for cancer. Since then, criticism of the search for a cure has mounted from those who maintain that the primary emphasis should be on prevention.

Nobel Prize-winner James D. Watson, for example, said in 1975 that the "war of cancer, " launched mainly by Nixon, was a "total sham" that is misleading in it premises and misleading in its promises for a quick cure.

Last September, Upton particiated in an eight-day conference at Watson-s Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island in which experts from all over the world agreed that the best hope in the war on cancer lay in reducing environmental hazards in the workplace and the environment, including the food and water supply.

Upton, who came to Stony Brook in 1970, when it was founded, after 18 years at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, received his medical degree from the University of Michigan in 1946. He also interned and taught there.