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Proper Response to Cancer Report is More Education and Research, Not More Government

Mike Hennessy
Published Online: Thursday, August 19, 2010   [ Request Print ]


Cancer in one form or another impacts millions. Nearly 41% of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, which means the condition will touch nearly everyone in some way, sooner or later.

Our August issue is focused on oncology and how it impacts pharmacy care. Pharmacists will encounter many cancer patients throughout their careers. One of the more important aspects of the pharmacist’s role can be in combating misinformation about cancer. That alone is a daunting task.

Consider a recent government report on cancer, which largely focused on risks from chemicals and other hazards in the environment, and which has drawn criticism from experts in the field. The 240-page report, recently published online by the President’s Cancer Panel, warns that “grievous harm” from chemicals and other hazards is supported by a growing body of evidence linking environmental exposure to cancer. The purpose of this government panel, which included 45 invited experts from academia, government, industry, advocacy groups, and the public, is to offer direction and analyses for one of our nation’s most serious health issues. The report blamed weak laws, lackadaisical enforcement, and fragmented authority for the lack of control. It also stated that the number of these cancer cases has been grossly underestimated and urged President Obama to take action.

The report focused mostly on environmental toxins and their role in causing cancer. This approach was praised by some in the “green community,” but it was criticized by others, including many in the scientific community and the American Cancer Society (ACS). ACS expert Michael Thun, MD, an epidemiologist, calls the President’s Cancer Panel’s report “unbalanced by its implication that pollution is the major cause of cancer.” Furthermore, he questions the unproven “fact” that environmentally caused cancer cases are grossly underestimated. Estimates for environmentally caused cancer are at about 6%, with almost two thirds of those cases coming from occupational exposures.

The President’s Cancer Panel does make some recommendations to the public on how to lower risks, and there is certainly some inclusion of personal responsibility. Choosing foods, products, and toys that minimize toxins and filtering tap water are among these suggestions. Though the proliferation of chemicals in our lives is certainly one factor in developing cancer, its impact pales in comparison to other factors for which individuals—not institutions—must be held accountable. Oncologists and other experts have rightly pointed out that focusing on smoking cessation, proper nutrition, and the obesity epidemic would do much more for the long-term prognosis of most people who will face a cancer diagnosis in their future.

It is disheartening to learn that the combined funding for cancer research in this country—including from private foundations, pharmaceutical companies, and government funding—comes to just less than 70 cents per person per week. Solutions to cancer will be found in solid scientific research, not bigger government and greater regulation of institutions. High-level reports that take the spotlight off of individual responsibility and the leading causes of cancer can do more harm than good.


Thank you for reading!




Mike Hennessy
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