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Cancer Risks

Posted by bmagnus On May - 14 - 2010

Yesterday, the President’s Cancer Panel came out with a report called Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now. They point out that there are tens of thousands of relatively poorly regulated and studied chemicals out there, which may together or individually put us all at greater risk of cancer. Is this a big deal? It depends who you ask.

Of course there are carcinogens in the environment. Some of them are naturally occurring and some of them are there due to pollution. The chairman of the Panel said “There remains a great deal to be done to identify the many existing but unrecognized environmental carcinogens and to eliminate those that are known from our daily lives — our workplaces, schools, and homes.”

On the other hand, the American Cancer Society thinks this report talks too much about environmental exposures we can’t control and not enough about known cancer risks we can control. In particular they point out obesity, tobacco use, overindulgence in alcohol, infections, hormonal imbalances, and overexposure to sunlight. In spite of this, “Many elements of this report are entirely in synch with the ACS’s own recently published paper on environmental factors and cancer risk, said Dr. [Jonathan] Samet, who is cochair of the ACS Cancer and the Environment Subcommittee.”

The report appears to have some controversial positions on one chemical in particular, BPA. While some dispute BPA’s role as a carcinogen and therefore find fault with this report, other sources are very clear that it is likely to have a role in cancer development and treatment. It may also cause heart disease. Furthermore, it may raise the risk of obesity — perhaps the root cause of why it is associated with cancer and heart disease both. The FDA is concerned about it enough to stop calling it “safe.”

The bottom line is clear. While you can’t eliminate every carcinogen from your immediate environment, you should do what you can to minimize exposure. While there are many “causes” of cancer and some of them, like genetic risks, you can’t do anything about, nevertheless you should certainly do the obvious things to reduce your risk of cancer, such as maintaining a healthy weight and not using tobacco products.

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