Science Panel Warns: America Is Losing War Against Cancer by Focusing on "Carcinogens"

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For immediate release

New York, New York -- February 2, 2005. The American Council on Science and Health today warned of the serious and negative health implications of our nation's current fixation with removing "carcinogens" -- trace levels of chemicals that at high dose cause cancer in laboratory rodents -- from the food, water and general environment.

ACSH scientists expressed alarm that growing regulatory effort to remove trace levels of chemicals like PCBs, dioxin, acrylamide, Alar and other agricultural chemicals -- purportedly to protect us from cancer -- is diverting our efforts to limit our exposure to known causes of cancer.

"News reports in recent weeks have confirmed that cancer is now the leading cause of death among Americans under age 85," Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, ACSH's president, noted. "While frequent calls to regulate or ban substances that cause cancer in laboratory animals may suggest to consumers that we are indeed doing something to reduce our risk of cancer, the promise is a false one. There is simply no evidence that human exposure to trace levels of chemicals that cause cancer in laboratory animals poses a cancer risk to us."

Whelan says, "The key to reducing our nation's toll of cancer lies with implementing proven anti-cancer efforts, including education about the dangers of smoking, dietary modifications to reduce the cancer risk posed by obesity and by encouraging cancer screening to detect some cancers at a curable stage. Efforts to purge our environment of trace chemicals that cause cancer in rodents also distract us from exciting new protocols for cancer prevention -- including the new field of 'chemoprevention,' which relies on medications to either prevent the onset of cancer or dramatically reduce the probability of recurrence after a diagnosis is made."

"For almost 50 years, self-appointed consumer advocates have focused on 'chemicals' as a cause of cancer," noted ACSH Medical Director Dr. Gilbert Ross. "But the science of cancer epidemiology tells us something quite different. Indeed lifestyle factors -- including cigarette smoking, an imprudent diet and overexposure to sunlight are among the most significant and readily identifiable causes of cancer. Human exposure to trace levels of chemicals -- in food, air, water or consumer products -- play no known role in the development of human cancer, and by focusing on the 'chemical carcinogen du jour,' we are only distracting ourselves and consuming our limited resources without any known benefits."

Ross added, "If we are to make progress in our war against cancer, we must first correctly identify the enemy. Any continued efforts to reduce our exposure to purely hypothetical risks are counterproductive -- and will only lead to more avoidable cases of cancer."