President’s Cancer Panel Reports on Environmental Causes of Cancer

By Rachel Walden |

The President’s Cancer Panel, created in 1971 to monitor the National Cancer Program, provides reports to each sitting President on the nation’s cancer programs and priorities. Previous reports have covered topics such as health disparities, translational research, cancer survivorship, barriers to care, and cancer among Native American populations.

The Panel’s recently released report, “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now,” [PDF] focuses on potential risks posed by contaminants in the environment from industrial, manufacturing, agricultural, medical, military, natural, and other sources, and provides recommendations for reducing environmental cancer risks. For example, the report discusses the radiation exposure from medical CT scans, mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, and pesticide exposures.

The Panel’s report calls for further research into environmental causes of and contributors to cancer, stronger regulation and enforcement related to hazardous substances, better disclosure to the public of potential hazards created, inclusion of environmental and public health advocates in developing research and policy agendas and information dissemination, minimization of radiation exposure from medical sources, attention to the unequal burden of exposure, and increased use of safer alternatives.

It also calls for a move away from “current reactionary approaches to environmental contaminants in which human harm must be proven before action is taken to reduce or eliminate exposure” to a more “precautionary, prevention-oriented approach.” (For more information on what such an approach would look like, see The Precautionary Principle on the OBOS website.)

The free report also includes a number of recommendations for individuals to reduce their exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.

A representative of the American Cancer Society has criticized the report, arguing that “the report is unbalanced by its implication that pollution is the major cause of cancer…its conclusion that ‘the true burden of environmentally (i.e. pollution) induced cancer has been grossly underestimated’ does not represent scientific consensus. Rather, it reflects one side of a scientific debate that has continued for almost 30 years.”

The chairman of the panel has reportedly responded, “This is an evenhanded approach, and an evenhanded report. We didn’t make statements that should not be made.” A representative of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, in a commentary for The Salt Lake Tribune, further criticized the ACS’s response, commenting that the ACS’s focus on “lifestyle factors” such as diet and exercise reflects a “blame the victim” philosophy that trivializes environmental risks. He also questions the ACS’s relationship with corporate donors who could possibly be affected by increased regulation and enforcement.

Orac at Respectful Insolence (ScienceBlogs) has detailed commentary on the report, including discussion of the ACS’s reaction – the full post is well worth a read.

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