President’s Cancer Panel Report on Environmental Contributors to Cancer

Elise Miller, MEd

Rarely has anyone told me that they felt teary-eyed with joy when reading a newly published government report. But at least three prominent environmental health leaders I know said they felt just that when reviewing the President’s Cancer Panel report, Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now, released last week. The report provides a multi-layered analysis of over 450 scientific studies linking chemical exposures to various forms of cancer and suggests action steps we can take on both personal and policy levels. Its publication garnered immediate press attention, with articles in the Washington Post, the New York Times, USA Today, and other media sources. Some cancer experts, including those representing the American Cancer Society who provided testimony to the PCP along with a number of respected academics and industry leaders, however, have expressed concern that the report overstates certain findings. Those discussions will no doubt continue to take place.

What should not be lost in any debate on these issues, however, is the report’s unequivocal recommendation that chemical exposures need to be considered along with lifestyle choices, genetics and other factors that may contribute to cancer—otherwise, we will only continue to see unacceptably high rates of childhood leukemia, breast cancer, prostate cancer, brain tumors and many other cancers that can shatter the lives of so many families and communities and add huge costs to the health care system. In short, this report brings to the forefront why the potential health impact of certain chemicals—chemicals that are now ubiquitous in the everyday products we use, in our food and water, and even in our own bodies—need to be an integral part of any primary prevention research and public health initiative on cancer.

Other notable aspects of this report include the emphasis on taking precautionary action in the face of potential threats to public health, the promotion of new worker safety standards, and the inclusion of military activities. In addition, it makes a persuasive economic case for why we need to develop alternatives and prioritize green chemistry as well as a human rights case for focusing not just on reducing the number of deaths but on improving the quality of life, particularly for those in disproportionately impacted communities. Finally, this report is unusually compelling and comprehensive because it offers clear steps we can take on multiple levels to reduce the incidence of cancer. In short, it calls for nothing less than a national cancer prevention strategy—inclusive of all potential contributing factors—that is wholly embraced by our communities and fully supported by the federal government, the health sector, and industry.

To learn more about this seminal report and its implications, please join us for our CHE partnership call on Tuesday May 18th.

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