Top US cancer panel says chemicals causing “grievous harm”

May 20, 2010 at 4:01 pm | Posted in Briefing | Leave a comment

Coverage of the US PCP report in USA Today (click to view story, external link)

The US President’s Cancer Panel (PCP), charged with monitoring the national Cancer Program, recently surprised a lot of people working around harm to health from environmental chemicals with their most recent biannual report.

This is because it is the first time the PCP has focused on environmental causes of cancer, stating that “the true burden of environmentally induced cancers has been grossly underestimated” and strongly urging action to reduce widespread exposure to carcinogens.

The panel also criticised regulators and industry for using “woefully outdated” estimates of environmentally caused cancers to set regulations and “to justify its claims that specific products pose little or no cancer risk.”

The PCP is currently a two-member panel: Dr. LaSalle D. Lefall, Jr., a professor of surgery at Howard University and Margaret Kripke, a professor at University of Texas’ M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. They were appointed by President Bush, not President Obama.

The report brings the PCP into line with organisations including the Endocrine Society (ES), which published in 2009 a Scientific Statement voicing strong concern about potential harm from endocrine disrupting chemicals in the environment and consumer products, and the American Medical Association, which in 2008 passed resolutions stating that more attention needs to be paid to environment as a cause of illness and for medical professionals to receive more education in this area, and endorsed the ES concerns about endocrine disruptors.

The Lancet commented on the PCP report: “Cancer prevention must remain a top priority for the soon to be appointed director of the US National Cancer Institute. The federal government should impose and enforce stronger environmental laws which will decrease regulatory complexity, reduce industry’s influence, and encourage research directed toward the health effects of low doses of a combination agents.”

There is an enormous body of research (mostly animal and epidemiological, due to the ethical impossibility of doing RCTs in this area) linking environmental exposures to chemicals with cancer and a range of other diseases. Since 1970, age-adjusted rates of many cancers have increased drastically (e.g. rates of NHL and prostate have tripled).

The American Cancer Society was less than delighted with the PCP report (though Medscape Today points out this is not representative of the full range of opinion across the ACS), accusing the PCP of being “unbalanced” and diverting attention away from known causes, while implying environmental exposures are not a “modifiable” risk.

Critics of the ACS have raised questions over conflict of interest and robust defences of the PCP have been mounted by the former chairman of the Sierra Club and the CEO of the Breast Cancer Fund.

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