“The incidence of some cancers, including some most common among children, is increasing for unexplained reasons,” said a recently released government report from the President’s Cancer Panel (PCP). Though overall cancer rates have decreased over the past few decades, as well as mortality, about 41% of Americans will still be diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lives. Appointed by President Bush before leaving office, the 2-person panel spent the previous two years building their case, which focuses an unsuspecting culprit: the environment.
These trends, some seemingly at odds with one another, were the impetus for the panel’s investigation into one particular (potential) cancer cause: environmental toxins such as the over 80,000 chemicals that are in commercial use. The PCP did not set out to conduct new research, but rather hear expert testimony and evaluate the “growing body of research [that] documents myriad established and suspected environmental factors linked to genetic, immune, and endocrine dysfunction that can lead to cancer and other diseases.”
Despite this growing evidence, there is still a lack of emphasis on research that focuses on the possible environmental factors that may play a role in causing cancer compared to other research focusing on genetics and the mechanics of cancer. In other words, we know that smoking is a major cause of lung cancer; we know that too much sun exposure can cause skin cancer; but we haven’t paid enough attention to the possibility that the chemicals and potential toxins that exist in today’s society may also be a cause.
The True BurdenWith only a few hundred out of the tens of thousands of chemicals in use in the U.S. having been tested for safety, the PCP concluded that the “true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated.” They determined that due to the widespread use of such chemicals and the relative under-regulation, exposure to potential cancer-causing agents from the environment is widespread.
Perhaps the biggest cause for alarm singled out by the panel’s letter to the president was the danger posed to children and even unborn infants. Children’s delicate and non-fully developed immune systems aren’t as capable of fending off environmental toxins as well as older adults, leaving them far more vulnerable.
Statement on Regulations of Environmental ContaminantsThe panel’s explanation of how environmental toxins are currently being regulated in the U.S. is to the point:
The prevailing regulatory approach in the United States is reactionary rather than precautionary. That is, instead of taking preventive action when uncertainty exists about the potential harm a chemical or other environmental contaminant may cause, a hazard must be incontrovertibly demonstrated before action to ameliorate it is initiated. Moreover, instead of requiring industry or other proponents of specific chemicals, devices, or activities to prove their safety, the public bears the burden of proving that a given environmental exposure is harmful.
Overall, “efforts to inform the public of such harmful exposures and how to prevent them must be increased,” the panel concluded.
If you’d like to read through the entire report, click here. (Note: it’s a 240-page PDF that will take a few moments to load up.)
Posted by Ben