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Jun 182009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Calling the fight against cancer “one of the most notorious public health failures of the 20th century” four leading cancer and environmental experts called on Congress and the Obama Administration this week to acknowledge the role environmental carcinogens play in triggering cancer and dedicate more money to cancer prevention.

In a letter to Congressional leaders, the national medical and scientific experts said they were concerned that prevention has received little attention in the Obama Cancer Plan. They noted that health care costs could not be brought under control without a better plan to fight the disease that claims 1,500 American lives daily and costs $89 billion a year to diagnose and treat. (Costs rise to $219 billion annually, when lost productivity and premature death costs are factored in).

“The connection between our losing the cancer war and the need to control costs through prevention is clear. Cancer is not only one of the most costly and sometimes deadly diseases in America, it is also one of the most preventable,” they wrote.

As Congress ramps up this week to craft what could be a massive health care reform package, the advocates asked that elected leaders make revisions to the National Cancer Act (of 1971) that would reduce Americans’ exposure to carcinogens by half over the next decade.

They also want a complete public registry of carcinogens.

For too long, they say, the National Cancer Institute has blamed the vast majority of cancer on human behaviors, such as lack of exercise, poor diet and sun exposure – ignoring the role of environmental carcinogens.

But environmental and occupational exposures to carcinogens are the primary cause of non-smoking related cancers, say the petitioning experts, led by Dr. Samuel S. Epstein, MD Chairman, Cancer Prevention Coalition in Chicago. They cited “preventable exposures to carcinogens in the workplace and environment” such as nitrites in processed meats, formaldehyde, chlorinated organic pesticides, organic solvents and other substances.

The letter listed many more examples of how environmental factors, beyond tobacco use, that are believed to cause cancer.

“To be sure, smoking remains the best-known and single largest cause of cancer, particularly lung cancer. While incidence rates of lung cancer in men have declined by 20% over the past three decades, rates in women increased by 111%. But more importantly, non-smoking cancers — due to known chemical and physical carcinogens — have increased substantially since 1975. Some of the more startling realities in the failure to prevent cancer are illustrated by their soaring rates of increase. These include: