From Tim Phalen, Medical Writer, Palio
If you have not already read the newly released report entitled Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now from the President’s Cancer Panel (PCP) yet, don’t do it. OK, I shouldn’t say that. You helped pay for it, after all. If you do choose to read it, don’t be surprised if you are afraid to eat, drink, breathe, talk on your cell phone, fly, drive, mow your lawn, clean your house, get too much sun, get too little sun, swim in a pool or get an X-ray. This is far from a complete list, but the report suggests that these activities could expose us to a “bombardment” of environmental insults that increases our risk of cancer. According to the report, the threat posed by environmental factors is “grossly underestimated” and much more must be done by the President to protect Americans from these threats. The “more” refers primarily to “rigorous regulations” of environmental pollutants with the goal of removing carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water and air.
The PCP report stirred up controversy when the American Cancer Society criticized it for implying that pollution is the major cause of cancer and for concluding that the rate of environmentally induced cancer is highly underestimated. The ACS points out that the debate over the contribution of man-made chemicals and environmental pollutants to overall cancer incidence is ongoing, while the report dismisses that debate, declares that the risk is underestimated without conclusive evidence to support that assertion. While the ACS has identified many of the same environmental factors as potential risks, it is rightfully concerned that this report and the alarm it could induce will draw necessary attention away from studying and combating the established major causes of cancer (smoking, obesity, alcohol, infections, hormones, and sunlight). These are certainly larger threats than non-organic broccoli, tap water, or cosmic radiation during air travel.
Environmental cancer risk is an important subject that deserves further study because, like much of our understanding of cancer in general, there are still more questions than concrete answers regarding causes and treatments. Throughout much of the PCP report there is a severe lack of conclusive epidemiological evidence establishing a level of risk, if any, for many of the identified factors, including cell phone use, electrical power lines, the chemical BPA, and trace pharmaceuticals in drinking water, to name a few. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a chance that these and other factors are associated with risk, but we just don’t currently have any solid evidence that many of them pose a significant risk to humans. This fact is stated several times in the report.
Yet, the Panel urges the President to establish a regulatory framework that will purge suspected carcinogens and pollutants from our environment, and impose new burdens on manufactures of chemicals and new technologies to prove safety prior to approval for use and to conduct post-marketing studies. This sounds an awful lot like the drug approval process, which requires years and billions of dollars to bring something to market. This may sound like a good idea at first, but is it warranted given the uncertainty and lack of evidence surrounding environmental cancer risk? Without knowing what the current risk is, how do we know that the untold economic costs of this type of regulation will be worth it? How will we know what technological opportunities won’t be pursued because the regulatory burdens are too high? It’s concerning that the alarmism of this report could prevent these questions from being sufficiently addressed before it is acted on.
Let’s also not forget that cancer incidence and mortality has been declining in recent years, despite our supposedly toxic environment. We must be doing something right.Palio is a full-spectrum global pharmaceutical and consumer advertising, marketing, and communications agency that excels in brand creation and specializes in brand strategy, product launches, global marketing, and digital and integrated media.