ACSH disappointed with cancer institute's query on President's Cancer Panel report

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ACSH President Dr. Elizabeth Whelan recently wrote to Dr. Joseph Fraumeni at the National Cancer Institute, asking if NCI was planning on reviewing or critiquing a recent report of the President's Cancer Panel on environmental causes of cancer. Dr. Whelan, who critiqued the panel's report in a National Review Online article, noted that NCI features the panel's report on its website without comment.

Among other things, the panel's report recommends that to avoid cancer, Americans should take off their shoes before entering their home. These recommendations were recently picked up and featured in a recent CNN special, "Toxic America."

ACSH received a response to our letter not from Dr. Fraumeni or any other senior NCI scientist, but from a public relations staff member.

"We at ACSH are very disappointed that NCI declined to answer the questions posed in the ACSH letter and appears to have made the decision to ignore the misinformation in the panel's report instead of assisting Americans in sorting out fact from hype about the known causes of human cancer," says Dr. Whelan.

The text of the letters follows (with plain-text links converted into hyperlinks for readability):

May 21, 2010

Joseph F. Fraumeni Jr., M.D., M.Sc.
Director, Division of Cancer Epidemiology & Genetics
National Cancer Institute
6120 Executive Boulevard, Room 8070
Bethesda, MD 20892-7242

Re: President's Cancer Panel Report

Dear Dr. Fraumeni:

We at the American Council on Science and Health have reviewed the recently released "President's Cancer Panel" report, and have concluded that its findings, conclusions and recommendations misrepresent the facts about the science of cancer epidemiology. The report clearly leads us to believe that we are surrounded by "toxins" and "carcinogens" that increase our risk of cancer. But, as you well know, the major controllable causes of cancer have nothing to do with "environmental chemicals" and everything to do with lifestyle factors - including cigarette smoking, obesity, excessive alcohol consumption, overexposure to sunlight and other such factors.

ACSH has reviewed the list of "participants" that accompanies the report and, to our dismay, found that many of the participants are well-known anti-chemical activists, not neutral evaluators.

We also noted that a number of the participants were from the National Cancer Institute. It was indeed troubling to see the National Cancer Institute, with its pristine record of promoting only science-based commentaries about the etiology of cancer, was in any way associated with such a biased, agenda-driven, unscientific evaluation of the causes of human cancer.

We saw that the full report is available on the NCI webpage - but there is no critique or professional review of its contents.

Does the NCI endorse or approve of the content and recommendations of this report?

If not, is the National Cancer Institute planning a public review and critique of the President's Cancer Panel report to correct the record?

NCI is the foremost authority on the causes of human cancer. Thus if, as I suspect, NCI does not agree with the thrust of this report, we encourage NCI to set the record straight by issuing a formal analysis that a) confirms that the panel's report overstated the role of "environmental chemicals" in cancer causation and b) failed to give high priority to the known and controllable causes of human cancer.

Thank you, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Elizabeth M. Whelan, Sc.D., M.P.H.

P.S. Here is a commentary I did for National Review Online about how the panel's report distorts the science of cancer epidemiology.

May 31, 2010

Elizabeth M. Whelan, Sc.D., M.P.H.
American Council on Science and Health
1995 Broadway, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10023-5860

Dear Dr. Whelan:

Thank you for your recent letter to Dr. Joseph F. Fraumeni, Jr., Director of the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute (NCI), regarding the President s Cancer Panel Annual Report for 2008-2009, Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk, What We Can Do Now. The report describes the possible role of the environment in the etiology of cancer and makes recommendations for more research on this issue, better methods of exposure assessment, and more effective regulation.

The document is one in a series of reports by the Panel to the President addressing issues that affect the development and execution of activities of the National Cancer Program. Last year s report, Maximizing Our Nation's Investment in Cancer, 2007-2008, examined factors that could yield the greatest reduction in cancer morbidity and mortality. The Panel s recommendations focused on improving access to care and ending the scourge of tobacco in America. The 2006-2007 report, Promoting Healthy Lifestyles, again addressed the hazards of tobacco but also nutrition, diet, and physical activity. Other reports in the series have addressed translational research, cancer survivorship, health disparities, and other important topics. Each report has had a unique focus and no one report has been expected to cover every subject of importance to the National Cancer Program.

Eliminating tobacco use and adoption of health lifestyles are undoubtedly the most important actions that can improve individual and overall public health, but it is important to evaluate and eliminate other avoidable causes of cancer, as well. The exact proportion of cancer attributable to environmental agents is not known and, in fact, varies from country to country and as exposures change over time. Our understanding of the proportion changes as we do more research.

NCI's role is to conduct and support research based on scientifically rigorous standards, the results of which may be used by regulatory agencies to project risks and set policies. As you noted, several investigators from the NCI Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics were invited by the President s Cancer Panel to describe our on-going intramural research activities on environmental causes of cancer. NCI's web site contains information on environmental exposures on which we have conducted studies. Dr. Deborah Winn, Deputy Director of the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, which funds extramural research on these topics, and Dr. Shelia Hoar Zahm, Deputy Director of the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics have a commentary about environmental cancer risks in the June 1 issue of the NCI Cancer Bulletin (attached with this note).

I hope this information is helpful to you.


Jennifer K. Loukissas, M.P.P.
Communications Manager
Office of Communications and Special Initiatives
Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics