Cancers from Environment 'Grossly Underestimated'

Daily exposures cause more cancers than once thought, a presidential panel says.

ByABC News
May 5, 2010, 11:14 PM

May 6, 2010— -- 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."