Cancer and the Environment

Monday, May 10, 2010

M.D. Anderson Cancer Center immunologist Dr. Margaret Kripke, who co-authored the President’s Cancer Panel report which was released last Thursday, discusses its focus on reducing the environmental risks for cancer. Joining the discussion is American Cancer Society epidemiologist Dr. Michael Thun, who takes issue with the report's conclusion that the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated.


Dr. Margaret Kripke and Dr. Michael Thun

Comments [13]

Holly Zadra from Maine

To Amy:

Yes! The EU Parliament passed new legislation in 2006 called REACH, this from the book Living Downstream by Sandra Steingraber - Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals. It requires that producers and importers of chemicals disclose toxicity data in order for their products to enter or remain on the market. No data, no market.

In the US, this burden lies with the government. However, there are currently 62,000 grandfathered chemicals that other countries regulate.

Canada has banned pesticides for cosmetic reasons.

Also, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants is a UN treaty that became international law in 2004. The aim is to eliminate worldwide production of stable, persistent organic pollutants.

May. 12 2010 06:07 PM
Holly Zadra from Maine

To Cyndy -
There is not time enough or money to make a definitive scientific study for each of the myriad chemicals - currently around 60,000 untested circulating chemicals - that alone, and in concert with others, create an unknown chemical soup to which we are all exposed. What is quite clear are the links between petroleum- and coal- derived chemicals that disrupt normal body processes be they the by-products of industry, pesticide and herbicide contamination, or incinerating petroleum-derived products.

Also, cancer does not discriminate; or, more bluntly, a healthy lifestyle does not protect you. There are scores of otherwise healthy people afflicted with cancer everyday, myself included. It is smart to choose a healthy lifestyle to reduce your risk, but it certainly does not protect you. There is no healthy lifestyle, cancer-free club.

And to superf88 -
Dying of cancer is a tricky question. We have developed superior means of keeping people alive with cancer for longer periods of time. "Survivor" simply means one has survived past five years after diagnosis. What I think we should be focused on is preventing cancer from occurring - i.e. taking the necessary precautions when red flags come up.

Sandra Steingraber makes a good point when she writes about cholera: In the 1830s, people had no scientific proof of what exactly was killing everyone with each cholera outbreak. Because it was presumed that "crude vegetables" were to blame among other lifestyle habits, people began cooking their vegetables - killing the fecal-borne bacteria found therein not because they understood or had identified the bacteria (that was not until 1883). But cooking those crude vegetables and other sanitation measures brought cholera under control. 50 years after the fact, that bacteria was isolated. In the meantime, if people hadn't acted - or had waited for definitive scientific proof that identified the exact source of cholera - scores and scores more would be dead.

In other words, we needn't continue with endless scientific study when there is already a large body of evidence that points at environmental pollutants as a causative factor in cancer.

And it's not just humans suffering.

May. 12 2010 05:54 PM
Long Island Breast Cancer

Shocking breast cancer outbreak among women in 20s and 30s from Long Island taking place NOW, working @ a famous publishing company in NYC (though only slightly self reported).

Actually this alone is why we decided not to move to LI although there is no factual basis to back this up that we've seen.

May. 11 2010 01:27 PM
Stephen Shapiro from NYC

There's no question that environmental -- ie., non-genetic -- issues affect if not cause cancer. Smoking is an example. Heavy air pollution is smoking without a cigarette, but its the same thing. And chemicals, of course.

Here's what I know: As a young lawyer in the 80's defending in federal court the tobacco companies -- before I quit -- from cancer lawsuits, I saw strong, if not consequential, evidence of the environmental factors. One example was the cancer map. New Jersey was a black spot on the US cancer map (maybe it still is), while it was NOT the same black spot on the cigarette smoking map. So what else could there be in New Jersey? A coincidental community of genetically-prone people? Highly unlikely. More likely: dirty air from refineries and chemical plants. Breath deep.

May. 10 2010 11:14 AM
Cyndy from NJ

Thank you, Dr. Thun, for emphasizing that scientific proof needs to be utilized before an official statement is made about the underestimation environmental hazards. So often, individuals want to blame the appearance of a cancer on something else rather than on his or her own "lifestyle choices".

I do not think that enough is made of the significant risk that alcohol ingestion poses to the risk of developing breast cancer (as well as other cancers). So many want to jump on the "red wine is good for you" bandwagon. Therefore, drink up!

May. 10 2010 11:09 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Have some of the chemicals that haven't been tested here been tested in other countries?

And 1138, I'm sorry to hear what happened to your father. I don't know if he was exposed, but the 2nd most common cause of lung cancer is radon exposure.

May. 10 2010 10:59 AM
Peter from queens

I remember hearing about a study that compared cancer rates of recent immigrants to their relatives who stayed home... the new Americans had drastically higher rates. In other words, there's something about living in the US that results in a greater risk of cancer.

May. 10 2010 10:57 AM
Estelle from Austin

What about further study to find environmental causes for *genetic mutations* that cause cancer, and that then may be inherited by later generations?

May. 10 2010 10:55 AM
1138 from Queens

I lost my father to lung caner. he was not a smoker nor a drinker. He exercised and ate healthy and was not even close to being overweight. In the last five years since my fathers' death I know at least six others with lung cancers and two others with thyroid cancers who were also not considered high risk candidates. These people are between 30 and 50 years of age. My dad passed at the age of 67. There's something wrong and no one seems to want to address this issue.

May. 10 2010 10:54 AM

As someone who has cancer, I strongly disagree with the American Cancer Society.
The causal relationship between the millions of man made chemicals in our environment and cancer is obvious.
I would argue that the cancer society cares more about its sources of funding (the chemical industry, among others) than trying to prevent cancer.

May. 10 2010 10:50 AM

This is an extremely important subject.

Leonard Lopate has had at least two guests who have spoken to exactly this. Jon Wargo (professor at Yale) and Bill McKibben (NY Times) and many others have noted that the fundamental biochemistry of our planet has been altered and is being altered by the billions of tons of synthetic chemicals we are pumping into the environment.

The American Chemical Society has logged its 50 MILLIONTH synthetic chemical.

As I think Brian Lehrer noted, the US approach is to assume something is safe until there is evidence otherwise. Corporations are allowed to self-monitor. The BP disaster should tell us how effective self-monitoring is.

We are bathed in carcinogens daily.

May. 10 2010 10:48 AM
JP from NJ

Obviously consumers are using more plastics and chemicals then ever. But what about the average worker back in the 40’s and 50’s at the height of the industrial revolution? Where there not a lot more nasty stuff in the work force back then? What was the death rates due to cancer back then when they tested nothing?

May. 10 2010 10:47 AM


If environmental risks were that much worse than previously assumed -- then wouldn't most or all Americans between ages 30 and 40 simply be dropping dead of cancer?

Also (and more scientifically speaking), have you gotten a reaction to this news yet from business interests? Have life and health insurance risk assessors yet chimed in, for example, either disputing the report or using it to raise insurance rates?

And does the report have value as a tool to be used by those crafting US environmental and labor policies?

May. 10 2010 10:33 AM

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