President Obama got some advice yesterday from a special Presidential Cancer Panel. The Panel was mandated under the National Cancer Act of 1971 and included a strong staff and leading cancer specialists. The focus was on cancers we get from environmental exposures. It is strong stuff, but it is also stuff experts in cancer epidemiology have known for a long time. Unfortunately the environmental cancer prevention message too often gets submerged in the “you gave cancer to yourself because of how you live” message or triumphant news about the latest therapy for cancer you’ve already got (the typical line from the American Cancer Society). And Senators and Congressthings don’t champion programs because their spouses didn’t get cancer.
The report includes recommendations for stronger and more integrated regulation of carcinogens by Federal agencies, more attention to the unequal burden of carcinogenic exposures borne by ?migrant and other farm workers, and residents of high-poverty areas and cancer ?hot spots?? to reduce their risks, increased action to minimize radiation exposure from medical sources, more support for Green Chemistry and alternatives assessment, and the obligatory call for individuals to reduce their own exposures wherever possible. Compared to previous statements by such organizations as the American Cancer Society and even some reports from the National Cancer Institute, today?s report is a breath of fresh air. (Richard Clapp and Molly Jacobs, Presidential Panel presenters)
This report is a comprehensive look at the things we are involuntarily exposed to in our hospitals, doctors’ offices, communities and workplaces that give us one of the most dread diseases in our society. It points out that these factors have been grossly underestimated in the past because of ?flawed and grossly outdated methodology.? Again, no surprise to experts but a message most unwelcome to those for whom this information is, shall we say, inconvenient. And as Clapp and Jacobs report, the push back has started in earnest, led by the notorious industry water carriers at the wingnut American Council on Science and Health:
The counter-offensive by groups like the American Council on Science and Health is already underway, “Cancer death rates are going down. The so-called environmental trace levels of chemicals play no role whatsoever in the etiology of cancer? (see LA Times coverage) Yet it is important for cancer prevention advocates to take the pieces of the President?s Cancer Panel report that speaks to their concerns and bring it to their constituencies so it can serve as a guide for their own organization?s programs. Only in this way will the report have ?legs? beyond today?s release. For example, the PCP report provides strong support for the Toxic Substances Control Act reform process that is currently underway in the U.S. Congress. This landmark report needs to see the light of day in whatever forum possible.
The battle is joined. Again. It’s been going on behind the scenes for a long time, and behind the scenes is just where the ACSH and the American Cancer Society would like to keep it. But this time it’s being sent out from a more visible source, what NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof called the ?Mount Everest of the medical mainstream.?
There’s a mountain of evidence about the environment and cancer. And the Cancer Panel was standing atop that Mount Everest.