President’s Cancer Panel: Environmentally caused cancers are ‘grossly underestimated’ and ‘needlessly devastate American lives‘ [Part 2]

The panel, appointed by President Bush, told President Obama that the federal government is missing the chance to protect people from cancer by reducing their exposure to carcinogens. In its letter, the panel singled out bisphenol A, a chemical used in polycarbonate plastic and can linings that is unregulated in the United States, as well as radon, formaldehyde and benzene.

“The increasing number of known or suspected environmental carcinogens compels us to action, even though we may currently lack irrefutable proof of harm.” – Dr. LaSalle D. Lefall, Jr., chair of the President’s Cancer Panel

Environmental health scientists were pleased by the findings, saying it embraces everything that they have been saying for years.

Richard Clapp, a professor of environmental health at Boston University’s School of Public Health and one of the nation’s leading cancer epidemiologists, called the report “a call to action.”

Environmental and occupational exposures contribute to ”tens of thousands of cancer cases a year,” Clapp said. ”If we had any calamity that produced tens of thousands of deaths or serious diseases, that’s a national emergency in my view.”

The American Cancer Society issued a statement Thursday agreeing with much of the report but taking issue with the part about how environmentally induced cancers are “grossly underestimated.” [Editor’s Note: American Cancer Society comments added May 7, 2010]

“Unfortunately, the perspective of the report is unbalanced by its implication that pollution is the major cause of cancer,” said Dr. Michael J. Thun, the society’s vice president emeritus of Epidemiology & Surveillance Research. He said the report gave short shrift to “the major known causes of cancer,” including tobacco, obesity, sunlight and alcohol.

“There is no doubt that environmental pollution is critically important to the health of humans and the planet. However, it would be unfortunate if the effect of this report were to trivialize the importance of other modifiable risk factors that, at present, offer the greatest opportunity in preventing cancer,” Thun said.