Environmental Exposures and Cancer Risk

Between September 2008 and January 2009, an advisory panel set up within the National Cancer Institute look at the potential effects of environmental exposures on cancer in our community. The Panel consists of three members appointed by the US President, who by virtue of their training, experience, and background are exceptionally qualified to appraise the National Cancer Program. At least two members of the Panel are distinguished scientists or physicians.

This is the 240 pages report submitted in April 2010 by President’s Cancer Panel warning that “the true burden of environmentally induced cancers has been grossly underestimated” and urging steps be taken to reduce people’s broad exposure to carcinogens. It is worth the read for anyone who is interested in preventing cancer and in preserving the continuation of the human race. This report recommends several practices to reduce environmental exposure in our everyday lives. We highlight some of the points and issues raised in this report as we have already previously emphasised these in our book “Is Your Food Killing You?”

Research on environmental causes of cancer has been limited by low priority and inadequate funding and there is a lack of emphasis on environmental research as a route to primary cancer prevention, particularly compared with research emphases on genetic and molecular mechanisms in cancer. This report states that “Efforts to identify, quantify, and control environmental exposures that raise cancer risk, including both single agents and combinations of exposures, have been complicated by the use of different measures, exposure limits, assessment processes, and classification structures across agencies in the U.S. and among nations. In addition, efforts have been compromised by a lack of effective measurement methods and tools.” Current toxicity testing relies heavily on animal studies that utilize doses substantially higher than those likely to be encountered by humans and fails to take into account harmful effects that may occur only at very low doses especially to developing foetuses and during childhood. This category is more vulnerable than adults to increased cancer risk and other adverse effects from virtually all harmful environmental exposures. In addition, a potential agent is tested singly rather than in combination with other potential environmental agents making the results weak, flawed, or uncorroborated. Environmental carcinogens are everywhere; in our soil, air, water, and numerous consumer products.

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