She said the panel’s intent was to bring attention to human carcinogens in the environment that the public is unaware of, such as radon and formaldehyde, she said.
The panel pointed out bisphenol A, used in polycarbonate plastic and can linings, along with radon, formaldehyde and benzene, as carcinogens that need more regulation.
Clapp said instead of worrying about specific numbers, the focus should be on banning or restricting workplace carcinogens with strong evidence that they are harmful. One example is methylene chloride, used in semiconductor factories.
Reducing use of CT scans and cleaning up military bases are other ways to reduce exposures, according to the President’s Cancer Panel report.
The American Cancer Society agreed with much of the panel’s report, and in the past, it has expressed concern about environmental chemicals.
“Although the relatively small risks associated with low-level exposure to carcinogens in air, food, or water are difficult to detect in epidemiological studies, scientific and regulatory bodies throughout the world have accepted the principle that it is reasonable and prudent to reduce human exposure to substances shown to be carcinogenic at higher levels of exposure,” the American Cancer Society said in a 2009 Cancer Facts and Figures report.
But the group worries that the President’s Cancer Panel overstated the risks and detracts from combating the bigger causes of cancer.
“There is no doubt that environmental pollution is an important issue to address to improve the lives of Americans. At the same time, it would be unfortunate if people came away with the message that the chemicals in the environment are the most important cause of cancer at the expense of those lifestyle factors, like tobacco, physical activity, nutrition, and obesity, that have by far the most potential in reducing cancer deaths,” Thun said in a statement.
Thun added in an interview that “many of the carcinogens in smoking are the same ones that people worry about in the general environment,” such as benzene. But in cigarettes, “they are much more concentrated and people are inhaling them deep into their lungs. The magnitude of exposure is just gigantically different.”
But Kripke pointed out that there has been plenty of emphasis on smoking, diet and other causes of cancer over the past few years. Last year’s 2009 President’s Cancer Panel report focused on lifestyle-related cancers.
"To say that we have ignored those factors doesn't take into account that we have put a lot into work into it,” Kripke said. "We're very cognizant that there are other, larger factors that contribute to cancer, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't look at the smaller ones.”
The general public can understand that many factors can lead to disease and that all should be addressed, Schettler said.
“People can walk and chew gum at the same time. We can pay attention to many factors at the same time,” he said.
This article originally ran at Environmental Health News, a news source published by Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit media company.