KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

President’s Cancer Panel Focuses On Environmental Chemicals

The Washington Post: "An expert panel that advises the president on cancer said Thursday that Americans are facing 'grievous harm' from chemicals in the air, food and water that have largely gone unregulated and ignored. The President's Cancer Panel called for a new national strategy that focuses on such threats in the environment and workplaces. 

"Epidemiologists have long maintained that tobacco use, diet and other factors are responsible for most cancers, and that chemicals and pollutants cause only a small portion -- perhaps 5 percent. … The presidential panel said that figure has been 'grossly underestimated' but it did not provide a new estimate. … About 80,000 chemicals are in commercial use in the United States, but federal regulators have assessed only about 200 for safety" (Layton, 5/7).

The New York Times: "Children are especially vulnerable, the panel says. It urges the government to strengthen research and regulation, and advises individuals on ways to limit exposure to potential threats like pesticides, industrial chemicals, medical X-rays, vehicle exhaust, plastic food containers and too much sun."

Some scientists thought the report was based too heavily on hypothesis. "Dr. Michael Thun, an epidemiologist from the [American Cancer Society], said in an online statement that the report was 'unbalanced by its implication that pollution is the major cause of cancer,' and had presented an unproven theory - that environmentally caused cases are grossly underestimated - as if it were a fact" (Grady, 5/6).

Reuters: The American Cancer Society, also said "the report downplayed known risks that cause most cases of cancer including tobacco, obesity, alcohol, infections, hormones and sunlight." However, according to Reuters, the report "delighted environmental groups that have been pressing for more regulation of chemicals." It also pleased lawmakers that have been pushing for stricter regulation on chemicals, like New Jersey Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg. "My Safe Chemicals Act will require testing of all chemicals, and take substances off the market if the manufacturer cannot prove they are safe," he said (Fox, 5/6).

MedPage Today/ABC News: "The President's Cancer Panel was established by the National Cancer Act of 1971, when then President Richard Nixon declared war on cancer. The panel is required to submit an annual report to the president describing the status of the 'war' and identifying both progress and barriers to continued advances. … The singling out of environmental causes for cancer in this year's report is considered a major -- and some said welcome -- departure from previous reports, according to a number cancer specialists contacted by ABC News and MedPage Today."

"And while the report issued a call for increased emphasis on dialing down the radiation exposure with CT, the government may actually be out in front on this issue; the FDA recently proposed new safety requirements for manufacturers of CT scanners and fluoroscopic devices. The report included had to do with radiation exposure during CT scans" (Walker, 5/6).

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