There is a body of evidence linking general environmental exposures to cancer. A report was released today by the President's Cancer
Panel which finds that the true burden of environmentally induced
cancer is underestimated. The Panel's report, "Reducing Environmental
Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now," concludes that while environmental
exposure is not a new front on the war on cancer, the harm from this
group of carcinogens has not been addressed adequately by the National
Under the National
Cancer Act of 1971 several actions were taken which collectively
constitutes the National Cancer Program in the US. In simple language,
the program has nationally funded research, databases, and with the
advice of the National Cancer Advisory Board, plans and develops an
expanded, intensified, and coordinated cancer research program
encompassing the programs of the National Cancer Institute, related
programs of the other research institutes, and other Federal agencies.
certain form of cancer risk are more obviously known such as tobacco
smoking and asbestos exposure. In addition, there are other
environmental risk factors such as naturally occurring radon gas, diet/obesity, genetics, radiation (x-rays for example), trace amounts of pesticides
and other chemicals. In some cases a causal relationship has been
established. In others the relationship might be suggested by
statistical studies but are not yet proven.
In central Asia
around the Aral sea, there is currently a much larger environmental
exposure problem as compared to the US. There infant mortality rates
and respiratory illnesses have been steadily increasing for decades.
remains a great deal to be done to identify the many existing but
unrecognized environmental carcinogens and eliminate those that are
known from our daily lives - our workplaces, schools and homes," said
LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr., M.D., chair of the Panel. "The increasing
number of known or suspected environmental carcinogens compels us to
action, even though we may currently lack irrefutable proof of harm,"
With nearly 80,000 chemicals on the market in the US,
many of which are used by millions of Americans in their daily lives
and are not regulated or with little study, the report finds that
exposure to potential environmental carcinogens is widespread.
addition to environmental carcinogens, the report found that while
improved imaging technologies have facilitated great strides in
diagnosing and treating diseases, including cancer, some of these
technologies also carry risks from increased radiation exposures. Many
health care professionals, as well as the public, are unaware of the
radiation dose associated with various tests or the total radiation
dose and related increased cancer risk individuals may accumulate over
In addition, the report found that health care
providers often fail to consider occupational and environmental factors
when diagnosing patient illness. Physicians and other medical
professionals ask infrequently about patient workplace and home
environments when taking a medical history, thereby missing out on
information that could be invaluable in discovering underlying causes
The Panel concluded that Federal responses to the
potential plight of affected individuals have been unsatisfactory, and
that those affected lack knowledge about the extent of their exposure
or potential health problems that they may face.
Panel recommends several concrete actions that
government/industry/medical providers.individuals can take to reduce
cancer risk related to environmental contaminants, excess radiation and
other harmful exposures.
Key recommendations include:
1. Increase, broaden and improve research regarding environmental contaminants and human health.
2. Raise consumer awareness of potential environmental cancer risks and improve their
understanding and reporting of known exposures.
3. Increase awareness of environmental cancer risks and effects of exposure among health care providers.
Enhance efforts to eliminate unnecessary radiation emitting medical
tests, and to ensure that radiation doses are as low as reasonably
achievable without sacrificing quality.
5. Address the toxic
environmental exposures the US military has caused, and improve
response to associated health problems among both military personnel
6. Provide alternatives for potential environmental chemicals of concern.
what the panel is stating that the relative environmental risk has to
be determined and better quantified than at present. In the context of
public health, risk assessment is the process of quantifying the
probability of a harmful effect to individuals or populations from
certain human activities. For example, the American Food and Drug
regulates food safety through risk assessment. The FDA required in 1973
that cancer causing compounds must not be present in meat at
concentrations that would cause a cancer risk greater than 1 in a