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May-06-2010 00:19printcomments

President's Cancer Panel Report Finds True Burden of Environmentally Induced Cancer Greatly Underestimated

Panel Urges Action to Determine the Full Extent of Environmental Influences on Cancer.

President James Carter
President James Carter
Courtesy: University of Iowa

(WASHINGTON D.C.) - Even with the growing body of evidence linking environmental exposures to cancer in recent years, a report released today by the President’s Cancer Panel finds that the true burden of environmentally-induced cancer is greatly underestimated. The Panel’s report, “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now,” concludes that while environmental exposure is not a new front on the war on cancer, the grievous harm from this group of carcinogens has not been addressed adequately by the National Cancer Program.

“There remains a great deal to be done to identify the many existing but unrecognized environmental carcinogens and eliminate those that are known from our daily lives – our workplaces, schools and homes,” said LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr., M.D., chair of the Panel. “The increasing number of known or suspected environmental carcinogens compels us to action, even though we may currently lack irrefutable proof of harm,” he added.

Key Findings

With nearly 80,000 chemicals on the market in the US, many of which are used by millions of Americans in their daily lives and are un- or under-studied and largely unregulated, the report finds that exposure to potential environmental carcinogens is widespread. Yet, the public remains unaware of many of these carcinogens as well as their own level of exposure, especially to many common environmental carcinogens such as radon, formaldehyde and benzene.

In addition to environmental carcinogens, the report found that while improved imaging technologies have facilitated great strides in diagnosing and treating diseases, including cancer, some of these technologies also carry risks from increased radiation exposures. Many health care professionals, as well as the public, are unaware of the radiation dose associated with various tests or the total radiation dose and related increased cancer risk individuals may accumulate over a lifetime.

In addition, the report found that health care providers often fail to consider occupational and environmental factors when diagnosing patient illness. Physicians and other medical professionals ask infrequently about patient workplace and home environments when taking a medical history, thereby missing out on information that could be invaluable in discovering underlying causes of disease.

The report also recognizes the United States military as a major source of toxic occupational and environmental exposures that can increase cancer risk. Information is available about some military activities that have directly or indirectly exposed military and civilian personnel to carcinogens and contaminated soil and water in numerous locations in the United States and abroad, such as radiation exposure due to nuclear weapons testing. Nearly 900 Superfund sites are abandoned military facilities or facilities that produced materials and products for, or otherwise supported, military needs. In some cases, these contaminants have spread far beyond their points of origin because they have been transported by wind currents or have leached into drinking water supplies.

The Panel concluded that Federal responses to the plight of affected individuals have been unsatisfactory, and that those affected lack knowledge about the extent of their exposure or potential health problems they may face.


The Panel recommends concrete actions that government; industry; research, health care, and advocacy communities; and individuals can take to reduce cancer risk related to environmental contaminants, excess radiation and other harmful exposures. Key recommendations include –

  • Increase, broaden and improve research regarding environmental contaminants and human health.
  • Raise consumer awareness of environmental cancer risks and improve understanding and reporting of known exposures.
  • Increase awareness of environmental cancer risks and effects of exposure among health care providers.
  • Enhance efforts to eliminate unnecessary radiation-emitting medical tests, and to ensure that radiation doses are as low as reasonably achievable without sacrificing quality.
  • Aggressively address the toxic environmental exposures the US military has caused, and improve response to associated health problems among both military personnel and civilians.

Additional recommendations that are underscored in the report include those related to the needs for a comprehensive and cohesive policy agenda on the issue, stronger regulation and safer alternatives to many currently used chemicals, among other highlights.

The Panel concluded, “Just as there are many opportunities for harmful environmental exposures, ample opportunities also exist for intervention, change, and prevention to protect the health of current and future generations and reduce the national burden of cancer.”

For the complete report, visit

Hard copies may be ordered by writing to or President’s Cancer Panel, 6116 Executive Boulevard, Suite 220, Bethesda, MD 20892.

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