For immediate release
We must face the stark realisation that our cancer plans and strategies are grossly outdated. Despite gains in treatment and detection still almost 900 people will be diagnosed with cancer in the UK and about half that number will die from the disease each and every day.
What is needed is a new Cancer Action Plan which specifically addresses environmental and occupational risk factors (1) for breast and other cancers with targeted actions for those risk factors and specifically allocated funding. The plan needs to encompass social, economic and gender inequalities and would need to be rolled out across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland taking into account all countries specific cancer plans and strategies.
Current cancer strategies and plans target lifestyle factors but not ‘life circumstance’ factors. (2) Not only do strategies and plans ignore the social, economic and gender inequalities but also the interwoven and intrinsically linked environmental and occupational risk factors for cancer. There is little or no consideration given to the fact that lifestyle factors are influenced by economic and social aspects. By not addressing these confounding risk factors, strategies to tackle cancer seek to place the onus at the feet of the individual by focusing on individual instead of institutional action.
There are many barriers to action on the primary prevention of cancer; cancer is also caused by lack of political will (3). Despite high levels calls for inclusion of environmental and occupational risk factors in all cancer plans, the cancer establishment (those involved in determining the dominant thinking from government, industry and the cancer charities and organisations on cancer) continue to maintain the status quo. The onus needs to be shifted away from the feet of individuals to the feet of the cancer establishment to stem the rising incidence of a largely preventable disease. A more balanced approach is needed from the cancer establishment.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) gives a very conservative estimate of up to 24% of all human diseases are at least in part due to environmental factors which includes chemical exposures. (4) Both the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the WHO report that the incidence of chronic disease such as cancer is now greater than that of communicable disease. Twenty six different cancers alone have been linked to occupational and environmental exposures. (5)
The Alliance calls for a Cancer Action Plan which includes:
- Environmental and occupational risk factors (determinants) addressed as risk factors for cancer in a specific Cancer Action Plan and included in all cancer plans and strategies with definitive targets for action and appropriate allocated funding.
- Phase out of all IARC classified Group 1 carcinogens and Group 2A potential carcinogens.
- Targeted toxics reduction across all environments, the lived, worked and the first environment, the womb.
- Government support for green chemistry and engineering. Hazardous substances should be replaced with safe alternatives utilising the substitution principle.
- Elimination of all toxic and man-made chemicals which are found in breast milk and cord blood.
- Inclusion of Just Transition principles in all toxics use reduction initiatives and product lifecycle management analysis.
- Elimination of the future use of all types of asbestos and ensure proper management of the asbestos currently in place to protect workers from asbestos exposure and to prevent future asbestos-related deaths. (6)
- Readdress the unsustainable costs of cancer in terms of prevention.
- Education on environmental and occupational insults for all cancer specialists.
- Bringing cancer policy into the 21st century, by embracing new and emerging science.
- Use of relevant language and ensuring that references to the environment and primary prevention are universal and defined in terms of stopping cancer before it starts.
- Factoring in environmental justice principles and the right to a clean and safe environment into all cancer plans. (7)
- Equal consideration given to precautionary and preventive approaches to cancer alongside better treatment and care.
Considerable work has been done over the last few decades to try and get recognition for environmental and occupational risk factors but with little movement from the cancer establishment. We can only speculate why this 21st century disease is still being addressed with an 18th century solution, and question who is financially benefiting from breast and other cancers, while continuing to investigate the long-standing inaction on this issue by the cancer establishment.
Background Document: Background document for Cancer Plan
The Alliance is a multi-stakeholder group which includes representatives from: NGOs, Trade Unions, environmental and occupational health organisations, public health advocates and civil society groups, working together on cancer prevention. We aim to; challenge the existing perception of control and treatment of cancer being the only way forward; get equal recognition for primary prevention and ensure that the cancer establishment acknowledges the environmental and occupational risk factors for preventable cancers.
(1) Definition of environmental and occupational risk factors: Environmental and occupational risk factors are potential risk factors for cancer from exposure (including environmental, occupational and pre-birth exposure) to certain chemicals, substances, or particles or through ingestion, inhalation or absorption or to certain behavioural work patterns such as shift work which contribute to a cancer outcome by nature of their carcinogenic, mutagenic, or endocrine disrupting properties and abilities.
2. Prof. Andrew Watterson from Toxic Tour Report (London) Summer 2013. (Soon to be on the alliance website).
3. Donner, L and Chernomas, R. The Cancer Epidemic as a Social Event. 2004 Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Manitoba.
4. WHO/UNEP report on the State of the Science for Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals Report.
5. Environmental and Occupational Causes of Cancer (New Evidence 2005 – 2007) Richard Clapp. Lowell Centre for Sustainable Production.
6. Zero Cancer/Occupational Cancer. International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and Global Unions.
7. Business and Human rights. A resource website. Why environmental issues are human rights issues.