Medical Establishment Acknowledges Role of Chemicals and Pesticides in Cancer Epidemic

May 11th, 2010 - by: David Servan-Schreiber, M.D., Ph.D.

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Every year a committee delivers a report to the US President on how the billions of dollars earmarked for fighting cancer are being used. On May 6 that committee handed in its work for 2010, alerting the President to the gaps in research regarding the environmental causes of cancer. This year, for the first time, this high-brow panel of oncologists courageously pointed the finger at chemicals and other environmental factors that are likely to cause cancer.

In their introduction, the signatories of the report that was handed to President Obama note that the incidence of cancer in children has been rising regularly, a fact that can’t be explained by the usual excuses for rising cancer rates in the population over the past thirty years (aging of the population, increasing use of cancer screening). By definition, as I wrote in Anticancer, neither the increasing age of our population, nor the improvement of screening, have any role in rising rates of cancer in children. Indeed, as the panel now acknowledges, the only plausible explanations have to do with changes in our environment and life-style.

The panel criticizes the current "reactionary" approach, which consists in waiting for proof of the toxicity of a contaminant before measures are taken to reduce people's exposure.

The authors underline the need for a new approach based on the precautionary principle. They criticize the ineffectiveness of the agencies set up to do scientific evaluations -- which are excessively influenced by industry and related lobbies. They point out that it is no longer acceptable that a product or chemical be considered “safe” simply because the company producing it affirms that it has conducted internal research establishing safety.

The panel presents to the President a number of arguments that have long been made by activists that have been concerned about a laissez-faire approach to regulating chemicals in terms of their possible effects on health.

Firstly, even when a pollutant is present in our environment at levels beneath the regulatory maximum, it may nonetheless become toxic because of interaction with other pollutants. The committee asks for more research on this often-neglected "cocktail effect".

Secondly, the authors call -- "urgently" -- for more research regarding the effect of cell phones and their increased dissemination among teenagers and young children in particular.

Below are the specific recommendations that the report states most need to be conveyed to the public in the short term:

* Avoid endocrine disruptors, especially for children and pregnant women. (This includes a number of pesticides, but also children toys made with plasticizers such as phtalhates)
* If you work in a polluted environment, don't go home in your work clothes and work shoes.
* Filter your drinking water (particularly in areas where it may contain industrial chemicals or high levels of pesticides)
* Don't keep your food or water in containers containing Bisphenol A or phtalates (hard plastic containers)
* Prefer organic food. Avoid overcooked meat.
* Have the level of radon in your home evaluated.

I addressed all these themes in my book, Anticancer, and I continue to do so regularly on this site and in my public lectures. I'm deeply satisfied to see that these concerns are starting to be recognized by the oncologists who contribute to setting policy at the highest levels in the United States. It is important that they begin to recognize that these are not issues relevant only to a few agitated activists. These concerns are motivated by solid scientific studies and they should be at the core of any future policy to contain the current cancer epidemic.

The 2010 President’s Cancer Panel report is available from the US National Cancer Institute’s Web site at:

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