The President’s Cancer Panel recently released a 240-page report detailing what is known about the risks of cancer from chemicals in our environment. What is most startling about this report is its movement away from preventative medicine such as mammograms and testing as the most effective method of preventing cancer to a greener, cleaner more eco-friendly method of preventing cancers by avoiding and eliminating many common chemicals and toxins encountered every day.
What is the President’s Cancer Panel?
It is a research panel created by an act of Congress in 1971. It reports directly to the President every year and is charged with monitoring the multi-billion-dollar National Cancer Program. The panel currently consists of Dr. LaSalle Leffall Jr., an oncologist and professor of surgery at Howard University, and Dr. Margaret Kripke, an immunologist at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Both were originally appointed to the panel by former President George W. Bush. This year’s report was compiled using information gathered by the two panelists who met with nearly 50 medical experts in late 2008 and early 2009.
What are the President’s Cancer Panel Findings?
“The true burden of environmentally induced cancers has been grossly underestimated.” Environmentally induced cancers can occur by damaging DNA, disrupting hormones turning genes on or off or inflaming tissues.
The panel advised President Obama in this report “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.”
“Only a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States have been tested for safety,” the report says. It adds: “Many known or suspected carcinogens are completely unregulated.”
“With the growing body of evidence linking environmental exposures to cancer, the public is becoming increasingly aware of the unacceptable burden of cancer resulting from environmental and occupational exposures that could have been prevented through appropriate national action,”
The panel reports that “federal chemical laws are too weak, that funding for research and enforcement is inadequate, and regulatory responsibilities are split among too many agencies.”
“To a disturbing extent, babies are born ‘pre-polluted,’ ” the panel wrote referring to recent studies that have found industrial chemicals in umbilical-cord blood. However the problem does not end there, the panel goes on to add that “children are especially susceptible to the dangers of chemicals because of their small size and rapid development.”
The President’s Cancer Council also reported that “health officials lack critical knowledge about the health impact of chemicals on fetuses and children,” and that “the government’s standards for safe chemical exposure in workplaces are outdated.” For parents of small children and especially those who are pregnant, the cancer report included some heavy language, “The American people–even before they are born–are bombarded continually with…these dangerous exposures.”
Out of over 80,000 chemicals are on the market, only a few hundred have been tested for safety.
What are some of the environmental threats in the report that potentially cause cancer?
First and foremost and quite possibly one of today’s hottest environmental topics, Bisphenol A (BPA) and phalates, both found in plastics are listed as a chemical threat to our health. Bisphenol-A is widely used as a plasticizer in polycarbonate baby bottles, baby food containers, adult personal care and cosmetic products, food can linings, microwave oven dishes, dental sealants, and also medical devices. Recently other sources of contamination to BPA include receipts from cash register and credit-cards. These receipts are coated with microscopic powdered BPA.
Other threats include: benzene, and other petroleum-based pollutants in vehicle exhaust, arsenic in water supplies, chromium from plating companies, formaldehyde in kitchen cabinets and other plywood, tetrachloroethylene at dry cleaners, PCBs in fish and other foods, pesticides in gardens and food supplies, exhaust from traffic, pharmaceuticals in the water supply, medical testing, cell phones and industrial chemicals.
The panel is now urging doctors to use caution in before prescribing CT scans and other medical imaging tests that expose patients to large amounts of radiation. In 1993 18 million CT scans were performed, yet in 2007, the number of CT scans rose to 69 million. According to the report, “Patients who have a chest CT scan receive a dose of radiation in the same range as survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bomb attacks who were less than half a mile from ground zero.”
The U.S. military also came under criticism by the panel, saying that “it is a major source of toxic occupational and environmental exposures that can increase cancer risk.” One of the many examples of this claim in the report cited Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where carcinogenic solvents contaminate drinking water. It also noted the damages to Vietnam veterans with increased lymphomas, prostate cancer and other cancers from their exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange.
However, not everyone is accepting of the report’s findings and recommendations. Some critics claim that enough research hasn’t been done to quantify the connection between cancer and chemicals, and is “grossly underestimated.” Researchers say that is exactly the point: more research and more testing for chemical safety is needed. Panel member Kripke admits, “At this time we do not know how much environmental exposure influence cancer risks.”
Dr. Michael J. Thun, the society’s vice president emeritus of Epidemiology & Surveillance Research states that, “Unfortunately, the perspective of the report is unbalanced by its implication that pollution is the major cause of cancer,”
He and other critics claim that the concentration on environmental and chemical factors can distract people from many known causes of cancer including: smoking, obesity, alcohol, sunlight and sexually transmitted infections.
“There is no doubt that environmental pollution is critically important to the health of humans and the planet. However, it would be unfortunate if the effect of this report were to trivialize the importance of other modifiable risk factors that, at present, offer the greatest opportunity in preventing cancer,” Thun said.
What are some of The Cancer Panel’s Recommendations?
Drink filtered tap water.
Store and cook food in stainless steel or glass or BPA and phalate free plastics.
Choose pesticide free fruits and vegetables.
Minimize the exposure of children and pregnant women to chemicals.
Choose free range, hormone free and antibiotic free meats.
Check home radon levels.
Reduce radiation exposure from medical tests and cell phones.
If your work may expose you to harmful chemicals and toxins remove your shoes when entering the house and wash your work clothing separated from the rest of your laundry.
Other recommendations made by the President’s Cancer Panel that are good for the environment and your health include: driving fuel-efficient cars, walking, biking, using public transportation and turning off lights and electrical devices when not in use.
Recommendations for the government and businesses; the panel recommends that consumers are made aware of the risks inherent in the use of some products and chemicals, that more stringent regulation are put into place regarding chemicals that might cause cancer and that additional research regarding the effects of these chemicals is completed.
According to the National Cancer Institute’s SEER Cancer Statistics Review about 41 percent of all Americans will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime, and about 21 percent will die from it. About 1.5 million new cases were diagnosed in 2009. There is no one way to stop the epidemic of cancer, but obviously the traditional methods of preventative medicine, public knowledge and treatment are effective. With this report we are offered many health and healthy living alternatives that definitely can’t do any harm, and will do much good. “The increasing number of known or suspected environmental carcinogens compels us to action, even though we may currently lack irrefutable proof of harm,” Lefall, who is chair of the panel, said in a statement. It is also possible that with this report great strides may be made in efforts like the current legislation in the Senate backed by Dianne Feinstein of California that would ban BPA as well as in the Kids Safe Chemical Act.
Advice on Creating an Environmentally Sound and Healthy Home for Our Children by Dr. Robert Sears
The Collaborative on Health and the Environment
Environmental Health News Network
The Official President’s Cancer Panel Report in PDF