May 07, 2010 7:29 PM GMT
The government’s 240-page report, published online Thursday by the President’s Cancer Panel, says the proportion of cancer cases caused by environmental exposures has been “grossly underestimated.” It warns of “grievous harm” from chemicals and other hazards, and cites “a growing body of evidence linking environmental exposures to cancer.”
Children are especially vulnerable, the panel says. It urges the government to strengthen research and regulation, and advises individuals on ways to limit exposure to potential threats like pesticides, industrial chemicals, medical X-rays, vehicle exhaust, plastic food containers and too much sun. [...]
Dr. Michael Thun, an epidemiologist from the cancer society, said in an online statement that the report was “unbalanced by its implication that pollution is the major cause of cancer,” and had presented an unproven theory — that environmentally caused cases are grossly underestimated — as if it were a fact.
The cancer society estimates that about 6 percent of all cancers in the United States — 34,000 cases a year — are related to environmental causes (4 percent from occupational exposures, 2 percent from the community or other settings).
Suggesting that the risk is much higher, when there is no proof, may divert attention from things that are much bigger causes of cancer, like smoking, Dr. Thun said in an interview.
“If we could get rid of tobacco, we could get rid of 30 percent of cancer deaths,” he said, adding that poor nutrition, obesity and lack of exercise are also greater contributors to cancer risk than pollution.