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Cancer and the Environment: Is the International Medical Community Waking Up?

Cancer and the Environment: Is the International Medical Community Waking Up? 

 
Dr. Lawrence Rosen, Medical Advisor, DIEHC 
 
Two recent reports highlight the impact our environment is having on rising rates of childhood cancer; one abroad and one here in the United States.  From Beijing comes the sobering news that the “Chinese mainland now has more than 32,000 children aged under 14 suffering cancer of various kinds.”  What is most surprising, beyond the report of rising rates of cancer in this age group, is the acknowledgment of Chinese health officials that the environment may be largely to blame for the increase.
 
Health experts, including Zhang Guangchao, general secretary of the Chinese Anti-Cancer Association and an expert in childhood cancer, have warned the public that “pollution and environmental deterioration are behind rising cancer rates among Chinese children aged under 14.”
 
Zhang goes on to note, “It has been scientifically proven that factors such as obesity, physically inactive lifestyle and high-calorie diet are also factors in the development of childhood cancer.”  He also supports lifestyle change as a key to reducing cancer risk, stating, "Early intervention in children's unhealthy lifestyles will greatly lower their risk of developing cancer both in childhood and adulthood."  
 
These statements are remarkable for a public health official.   Coming on the heels of the U.S. President's Cancer Panel Report in 2010, calling for public policy changes considering the major impact of the environment on rising rates of cancer, the Chinese report supports international efforts in this arena.  
 
Meanwhile, back in America, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, an advocacy “coalition of diverse groups united by a common concern about toxic chemicals in homes, places of work, and products we use every day,” sponsored a conference call in January marking the  growing recognition of the impact of the environment on rising cancer rates.   
 
There were numerous concerns raised during the call, but the ones most worth highlighting were raised by Sean Palfrey, MD, a professor of clinical pediatrics and public health at Boston University.
From a WebMD report:   
 
Our bodies have no idea how to detoxify these man-made chemicals or prevent them from being absorbed, he says. “We store them so when a woman gets pregnant, those stored chemicals may be released and circulate into the fetal blood and breast milk. This is a multigenerational problem so if mom is exposed, she can expose the fetus and baby.”
 
It’s more than the exposure that is linked to cancer risk. “It is timing, genetics, the way it builds up, and where it is stored,” Palfrey says. “All of these things add together to make it harmful.”
There are steps we can take today to help limit our exposures to these pesticides and toxins, he says.
 
“Wash your produce, eat organic fruits and vegetables, and try not to use pesticides in your home,” he says. “Don’t smoke cigarettes, and ask the doctor if a CT scan or X-ray is really necessary for your children, and take care when renovating your house, which may stir up asbestos or lead.”
 
Legislation, too, can help better protect children, he says. “A lot of the agents that are used in manufacturing have never been looked at in relation to humans or children,” Palfrey says. “We are pushing for more responsible legislation on the use and production of these chemicals.”
 
“We need to study these chemicals first, and then try to put out things that have been proven to be relatively safe,” he says. “We advocate for responsible studies before throwing something out into the environment.”
 
There are so many good points here.  Dr. Palfrey touches on concepts of body burden, maternal-fetal exposure, the precautionary principle, safe food practices, green cleaners and integrated pest management, while advocating for greatly overdue legislative overhaul to protect our children.  With more open and transparent dialogue like the statements noted in this article, there is hope we will finally be able to move forward and address urgent needs to reduce cancer rates by acknowledging the impact of environmental factors.  For more resources on this topic, please visit the Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center web page on integrative pediatric oncology. 
 
 
About Dr. Lawrence Rosen
 
Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, New Jersey Medical School; Chair, AAP Section on Complementary androsen_thumb Integrative Medicine;  Medical Advisor, The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center™.  
 
Dr. Lawrence D. Rosen is a board-certified general pediatrician committed to family-centered, holistic child health care. He is the founder of one of the country's first green, integrative primary care practices -- Whole Child Center (wholechildcenter.org) -- in Oradell, NJ. He serves as Medical Advisor to The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center™. 
 
Dr. Rosen is a nationally recognized expert in Pediatric Integrative Medicine. He is a founding member and Chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Complementary and Integrative Medicine. He is appointed as clinical assistant professor in Pediatrics at UMDNJ/New Jersey Medical School. Dr. Rosen is a graduate of New York Medical College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He completed his residency and chief residency in pediatrics at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.  
  
 
 
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