May 6, 2010 - "Grievous harm" from carcinogens in the environment has been
"grossly underestimated" by the U.S. National Cancer Program, a presidential
But the American Cancer Society says the panel's report goes too far in
trashing established efforts to prevent cancer and that its conclusions go well
beyond established facts.
The two-member President's Cancer Panel, appointed to three-year terms by
President Bush, focused its efforts on environmental cancer risk. The panel
held four hearings in which it consulted experts from environmental groups,
industry, academic researchers, and cancer advocacy groups.
The panel's report includes an open letter to President Obama signed by
panel chair LaSalle D. Leffall Jr., MD, of Howard University; and panelist
Margaret L. Kripke, PhD, of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer
"The grievous harm from this group of carcinogens has not been addressed
adequately by the National Cancer Program," Leffall and Kripke write. "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
One of the panel's central claims is pollutants cause far more cancer than
previously appreciated. In an October 2009 review, the Cancer and the
Environment committee of the American Cancer Society's suggested that
pollutants cause no more than 5% of all cancers.
The presidential panel says this greatly underestimates the problem because
it does not fully account for synergistic interactions between environmental
contaminants, an increasing number and amount of pollutants, and the fact that
all avoidable causes of cancer are not known.
Experts differ on this assessment. Michael Thun, MD, of the American Cancer
Society, writes that this opinion "does not reflect scientific consensus" but
"reflects one side of a scientific debate that has continued for almost 30
Richard Clapp, DSc, MPH, professor of environmental health at Boston
University, praises the report for challenging "flawed and grossly outdated
methodology." Clapp was among the experts who testified before the hearing.
"This is an attempt to update the science," Clapp said at a news conference
sponsored by the Breast Cancer Fund. "This report ... calls for action on
things where we don't yet know all the details. We shouldn't wait until the
bodies are counted to say, 'Well, maybe people shouldn't be exposed so much to
In its 240-page report, the panel calls on the National Cancer Program to
emphasize environmental research, particularly so-called "green chemistry" that
evaluates safety at the earliest stages of product development. It also calls
for legislative and regulatory action to force industry to prove chemicals are
safe before, not after, they are introduced into the environment.
Although he differs with the panel's rejection of current cancer prevention
efforts, Thun says the American Cancer Society agrees with the panel's concern
Accumulation of certain synthetic chemicals in people and in the food
The large number of industrial chemicals that have not been adequately
The possibility that children are much more sensitive to environmental
pollutants than adults are
Possible combination effects of low doses of multiple chemicals
Potential radiation risks from medical imaging devices