Information on Cancer, Toxins and Toxic Chemicals
Cancer is the second leading cause of mortality in the world; in the United States alone it accounts for 1 in 4 deaths and claims more than 1,500 lives every day. Cancers are classified in different types : with over 100 different types and numerous factors that influence the susceptibility to cancer such as family history, type of work, living conditions, and economic status.
Cancer is a general reference that describes a number of complex diseases affecting various organs in the human body. Some of the most frequently diagnosed cancers include lung, breast, prostate, pancreatic and brain cancer.
In addition to the pain and suffering caused by the disease, cancer places an enormous economic burden on our society. In 2010, cancer was estimated by the National Institutes of Health to cost $102.8 billion in medical costs, $20.9 billion in loss of productivity due to illness, and $140.1 billion in loss of productivity due to premature death, for a grand total of $263.8 billion.
Yet much of these costs could be avoided, because many cancers are preventable. In May of 2010, the President’s Cancer Panel reported to President Obama that “the true burden of environmentally induced cancers has been grossly underestimated.” Exposure to environmental carcinogens (chemicals or substances that can lead to the development of cancer) can occur in the workplace and in the home, as well as through consumer products, medical treatments, and lifestyle choices. It has long been known that exposure to high levels of certain chemicals, such as those in some occupational settings, can cause cancer. There is now growing scientific evidence that exposure to lower levels of chemicals in the general environment is contributing to society’s cancer burden.
Environmental factors including tobacco smoke, nutrition, physical activity, and exposure to environmental carcinogens are estimated to be responsible for 75-80% of cancer diagnosis and death in the US. About 6%of cancer deaths per year — 34,000 deaths annually — are directly linked to occupational and environmental exposures to known, specific carcinogens. The potential of environmental carcinogens to interact with genetic and lifestyle factors, as well as each other, in the development of cancer, is not well-understood. Nor are chemicals in the environment exhaustively tested as to their carcinogenicity. Therefore the cancer burden caused by exposures to environmental carcinogens may be even larger.
Human biomonitoring studies show that many environmental contaminants, including known and potential carcinogens, are finding their way into people’s bodies. The sources of these contaminants are wide-ranging:
The following are examples of common environmental chemicals linked to cancer. Some are listed as known carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization, or by the Environmental Protection Agency. Others are probable or possible carcinogens. Because something has been classified as a carcinogen does not mean that every instance of exposure to that substance will result in the development of cancer. By the same token, a listing of “probable” or “possible” carcinogenicity does not mean we have exhausted study on that substance. It means the substance is not yet sufficiently studied. Such substances may, with further study, turn out to be definitively carcinogenic.
There are hundreds of other substances definitively linked to cancer in people.
11th Report on Carcinogens. The National Toxicology Program, US Department of Health and Human Services.
Cancer Causes and Risk Factors. National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health.
Cancer Facts and Figures 2010. American Cancer Society
Cancer Working Group. The Collaborative on Health and the Environment.
Cancer. Safer Chemicals Healthy Families.
IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risk to Humans. International Agency for Research on Cancer, World Health Organization.
Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What we can do now. Annual report 2008-2009. President’s Cancer Panel, 2010.
State of the Evidence: The connection between breast cancer and the environment. Janet Gray, PhD, 2010. The Breast Cancer Fund.