Thumbs Up for The President’s Cancer Panel, Thumbs Down for the American Cancer Society
Dr. Richard Frank—
Nearly every single day in my medical oncology practice, I have to explain to a fit, non-smoking, healthy-eating individual with no family history of cancer why they now have cancer. I cannot. As I explain in Fighting Cancer with Knowledge and Hope, tobacco use, obesity, diets high in saturated fats and lifestyles lacking exercise contribute to the development of cancer. Plus, approximately 5-10% of individuals have a genetic predisposition to cancer. Yet, many cancers remain unexplainable. And more young people seem to be affected. Could the cause be our environment? As many know, it certainly could be.
The fact that we are exposed daily to potential cancer causing chemicals (carcinogens) in our air, water and food supply is not a surprise. Since the industrial revolution, progress has often meant pollution and the contamination of our lakes, rivers, streams, soil and air. But, who will speak up about this problem? Who will protect us? Our university cancer centers and the pharmaceutical industry are trying to better understand the deranged cancer cell so as to target its destruction with cancer fighting drugs. This is a noble task and has led to many improvements in cancer therapy. But, it is not prevention. So, it is up to our public servants, the government to protect us.
But governmental protection can be politicized and be lax or strong. Recently it has been lax. Now, a new report from the President's Cancer Panel aims to reinvigorate this effort by highlighting the many threats to our health in the environment. There are thousands of chemicals in use in the US, but the safety of the vast majority are unknown. The report also suggests ways that individuals can reduce their exposure to cancer causing agents, such as buying pesticide-free produce, using water filters and avoiding exposure to BPA and other plastic components.
Quite shockingly, the American Cancer Society was critical of this report, as covered in the May 7 issue of The New York Times. This is unfortunate and misguided. I believe that the more we learn about the chemical dangers in our environment, the healthier we will be and the less cancer we will face.
Richard C. Frank, M.D., is director of cancer research at the Whittingham Cancer Center of Norwalk Hospital, medical director of Mid-Fairfield Hospice, and Clinical Assistant Attending at Weill Cornell Medical College. He has been appointed cancer expert for WebMD and was named a “Top Doc” in the New York Metro area by Castle and Connelly.