The role played by chemicals, gases and radiation in causing cancer has been underestimated, and not enough is being done about it, a U.S. presidential advisory panel on cancer says.
A report by the two-member panel — Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now — was released Thursday.
"The true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated," the authors said in a letter to President Barack Obama at the start of the report.
The report was written by Dr. LaSalle Leffall, professor at Howard University college of medicine in Washington and Margaret Kripke, an emeritus professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
"The American people — even before they are born — are bombarded continually with myriad combinations of these dangerous exposures," they said in the letter. "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 American lives."
Children are particularly vulnerable because of their smaller body mass and rapid physical development, which magnifies their vulnerability to carcinogens, and should be protected, according to the report.
The report recommends:
- Increasing research to determine the full extent of environmental influences on human health.
- Raising consumer awareness of environmental cancer risks and improve understanding and reporting of known prevention and protection efforts.
- Minimizing radiation exposure from medical sources, including a decision-making tool that considers each patient's cumulative lifetime radiation exposure. Measures would also include adding the estimated radiation doses from all tests as part of patient electronic health records.
- Improving testing for residential radon exposure and requiring all schools, daycare centres and workplaces to be tested regularly with the data made available to the public.
- Adopting long-term monitoring of electromagnetic energy exposure from cellphones and wireless technologies, given the rising use of these devices by young people.
Reacting to the report, the American Cancer Society said the panel downplayed known risks that cause most cancer cases, such as tobacco, alcohol, infections, hormones and sunlight.
"The report is most provocative when it restates hypotheses as if they were established facts," Dr. Michael Thun of the Cancer Society said in a statement.
He pointed to the panel's conclusion that environmentally induced cancer has been underestimated, saying it "reflects one side of a scientific debate that has continued for almost 30 years."