RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Last week, the American Cancer Society (ACS) published its first position statement on environmental cancer-causing agents, calling attention to the need for more research on the full impact of all the chemicals floating around in our environment.
THE DETAILS: People generally associate "environmental factors" that cause cancer with air and water pollutants. However, there are over 100,000 chemicals used in the consumer products that we come in contact with every day, and only a fraction have ever been tested for safety. It's these chemicals the authors would like more attention to be paid to, considering that, the authors note, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer has evaluated just 935 chemicals since it started looking at cancer-causing agents in 1969. Most of these threats are occupational exposures, which contribute to 2.4 to 4.8 percent of all cancer deaths in this country, but the general population is still exposed at much lower levels. To protect all individuals, the ACS is calling for tighter regulatory standards on both occupational and general exposures, based on sound scientific research that should be better funded, and for greater public disclosure of chemicals being used so that individuals can make informed decisions. The society is also calling for more detailed research on a chemical's cumulative-exposure risk, as well as how that risk is influenced by dosing and timing, and for monitoring the accumulation of these chemicals in humans and in the food chain.
WHAT IT MEANS: "The environment as it influences health is far more broad than the public may think," says Jonathan Samet, MD, MS, professor in the department of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine and cochair of the ACS Subcommittee on Cancer and the Environment, which authored the report. Unfortunately, he adds, cancer-causing agents are often shrouded in uncertainty. "Cellphones are particularly salient examples of environmental exposures that are now ingrained in modern life, yet there's an uncertainty of whether they're a cause of brain cancer," he says.