Cancers from Environment 'Grossly Underestimated'

Environmental carcinogens are responsible for a far greater number of cancers than previously believed -- a fact that suggests eradicating these environmental threats should be a priority for President Obama -- according to the report of a presidential advisory panel.

"The Panel was particularly concerned to find that the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated," wrote the authors of the report, "Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now."

"The panel urges you most strongly to use the power of your office to remove the carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water, and air that needlessly increase health care costs, cripple our Nation's productivity, and devastate American lives," the report's authors wrote in a letter to President Obama.

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.

"For the past 30 years ... there has been systematic effort to minimize the importance of environmental factors in carcinogenesis," said Dr. Philip Landrigan, director of the Children's Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

"There has been disproportionate emphasis on lifestyle factors and insufficient attention paid to discovering and controlling environmental exposures," he said. "This report marks a sea change."

Dr. Jennifer Lowry, a medical toxicologist at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Mo., said the report finally lends a "voice that could be heard that the environment does play an important role in the health of all people of every age."

The report is actually a synthesis of testimony from more than two dozen experts in cancer, chemicals and environmental toxins.

Based on that testimony and research compiled over the last two years, report authors Dr. LaSalle Leffall, Jr., of Howard University and Margaret Kripke, professor emerita and University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, concluded that the government has failed to prevent unnecessary exposures to carcinogens. The challenge for the Obama administration, they wrote, is to intensify research efforts into environmental toxins.

"With the growing body of evidence linking environmental exposures to cancer, the public is becoming increasingly aware of the unacceptable burden of cancer resulting from environmental and occupational exposures that could have been prevented through appropriate national action," Leffall and Kripke wrote in the letter to the president.

Among the potential exposures cited in the report were pesticides, fertilizers, pharmaceutical byproducts in the water supply, household chemicals and tanning beds. Emissions from cars, trucks and planes add to the toxic mix, the authors wrote.

But the authors said there was no evidence connecting the use of cell phones to increased cancer risk.

While Americans are exposed to thousands of chemicals each year, only several hundred of those chemicals have been safety tested, Leffall and Kripke said.

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