Health and Fitness

Published on May 11th, 2010 | by Jennifer Lance


US Government and Cancer Society Disagree on Risk of Environmental Chemical Exposure

Last week, the President’s Cancer Panel (the Panel) released a report titled “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk“ summarizing research conducted in 2008-2009 on “the state of environmental cancer research, policy, and programs addressing known and potential effects of environmental exposures on cancer.”  The Panel found that “the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated;” however, the American Cancer Society (ACS) disagrees with the significance the government gives to chemical exposure as a source of the disease.  Will such a debate weaken efforts to regulate dangerous chemicals?

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ACS questions government findings on environmental sources of cancer

ACS questions government findings on environmental sources of cancer

In a letter to President Obama, the Panel states:

Environmental exposures that increase the national cancer burden do not represent a new front in the ongoing war on cancer. However, the grievous harm from this group of carcinogens has not been addressed adequately by the National Cancer Program. The American people—even before they are born—are bombarded continually with myriad combinations of these dangerous exposures. The Panel urges you most strongly to use the power of your office to remove the carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water, and air that needlessly increase health care costs, cripple our Nation’s productivity, and devastate American lives.

The ACS estimates only six percent of all cancers are caused by environmental sources.  The organization fears such an emphasis on an “unproven theory” will distract from known sources of cancer, such as smoking.  Dr. Michael Thun, an ACS epidemiologist, is reported in the New York Times as stating:

“If we could get rid of tobacco, we could get rid of 30 percent of cancer deaths,” he said, adding that poor nutrition, obesity and lack of exercise are also greater contributors to cancer risk than pollution.

But Dr. Thun said the cancer society shared the panel’s concerns about people’s exposure to so many chemicals, the lack of information about chemicals, the vulnerability of children and the radiation risks from medical imaging tests.

Many health advocates and environmentalists were excited by the Panel’s report that finally recognized the significance of chemical exposure on our health.  Personally, I feel the ACS is undermining the government’s efforts to protect its citizens from environmental toxins by debating the severity of the risk.  The actual percentages are moot.  Such actions by the cancer society are cause for concern that the organization’s ties to the chemical industry are responsible for their critique of the government report. In fact, past members of the ACS’ board have included chemical fertilizer and pharmaceutical executives.

If any cancer is preventable, then all efforts should be made to do so. As the report states, “Approximately 41 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, and about 21 percent will die from cancer.”  If removing BPA from our products saves lives, then all efforts should be made to do so immediately.

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