Update, May 10, 2022
The Cancer Free Economy Network continues the important work of education on the role of toxic chemicals in the environment and in our lives with members of the Biden Administration and key Cancer Moonshot constituencies. On Wednesday, May 4th, the CDC held a roundtable on President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot to gather different perspectives on cancer and the environment from 6 distinguished panelists including CFE members Nsedu Obot Witherspoon, Executive Director at Children’s Environmental Health Network and Dr. Margaret Kripke, Professor Emerita University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. For more information, see the link below:
Pres. Biden Reignited the Moonshot – Cancer Prevention Will Deliver the Mission
The Cancer Free Economy Network (CFE) applauds President Biden’s statement and efforts during National Cancer Prevention Month to strengthen federal leadership on cancer through a “reignition” of the Cancer Moonshot. While we share his ambition for a cancer-free future, we believe the current plan will miss the mark without a greater emphasis on cancer prevention — and a concerted effort to address deep-rooted systemic issues and disproportionate impacts of environmental risks on low-wealth and Black, Brown, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities.
At a time when cancer has become the second leading cause of death in the U.S. for adults and the leading cause of death from disease among children, addressing the complex and evolving issues that contribute to the country’s cancer burden requires simultaneous progress on multiple fronts, including doubling down on current cancer prevention priorities and eliminating the toxic chemicals known to cause cancer in consumer products and in the places we live, learn, work, and play.
The federal government has substantial untapped capacity for cancer prevention. The scale of this crisis demands mobilizing the resources of all federal agencies to eliminate inequities in the burden of the disease and drive cancer rates down.
Where is the Biden plan lacking?
The Cancer Moonshot priorities suggest that the White House does not see the opportunity of primary prevention: reducing known risk factors so that people do not develop cancer in the first place.
Primary prevention should be a fundamental goal, since even a highly effective system for screening to find cancers early and thereby save lives (“secondary prevention”) can cause undue trauma and lead to expensive and invasive tests. Dramatic reduction in cancer deaths at the scale envisioned by the Moonshot will be possible only with investment in promising primary prevention strategies, including not only efforts to change people’s behaviors, but also policy change that ensures healthy air, water, food, products, schools, homes and workplaces.
Addressing health inequities for disproportionately impacted populations
Another key topic missing in the Moonshot statement is the role of social determinants in cancer incidence and in access to prevention, diagnosis and treatment. The moonshot priorities do not address the disproportionate burden faced by vulnerable and historically marginalized people, including BIPOC and low-wealth communities, as well as children.
Studies have shown that cancer prevention is an issue of environmental and health justice: people of color, recent immigrants, and those receiving low incomes are far more likely to work with hazardous chemicals that increase cancer risk, to suffer disproportionately from exposures to environmental contaminants where they live, and to have less access to quality healthcare.¹
Recent reports have concluded that reducing toxic environmental exposures is especially important for preventing cancers in children. Data from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance Epidemiologic End Results Program show that the incidence of childhood cancer increased 41 percent between 1975 and 2018, with an annual percent change of 0.8%.²
Leading scientists and doctors agree that this upward trend cannot be attributed to genetic changes. Environmental risk factors of particular concern for children include, but are not limited to, traffic-related air pollution, paints and solvents, and pesticides. For all of these, there are solutions. Developing and scaling the use of safer alternatives is an essential strategy for cancer prevention.
We can and must do more to protect those who are the most vulnerable. A plan that centers environmental and health justice at the community level would remove barriers to access for cancer screenings and timely treatment, and it would invest in reducing exposures to toxics, with a particular focus on children.
What do we need to do next?
The reinvigorated Cancer Moonshot holds great promise for building on existing programs and for innovative breakthroughs at the intersection between cancer and environmental equity.
Nearly three decades since the federal government initiated action on environmental justice, far too many low-wealth and BIPOC communities still struggle with undue social and health burdens from environmental pollution. This pollution includes not only unsafe levels of lead and other contaminants in drinking water, but a heavier burden of other chemicals such as pesticides, air pollutants, and PFAS “forever chemicals,” among many others – all of which contribute to cancer risk.
For maximum impact, it is vital to link the priorities of the Cancer Moonshot, Justice40, the Environmental Justice for All Act, the Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act, and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and enable long-overdue transformative change in overburdened communities and on behalf of children.
The recommendations contained in A Path to Cancer Prevention and Environmental Equity: The Cancer Free Economy Network’s Agenda for the Biden-Harris Administration offer a plan of action that responds to the challenge of ending cancer as we know it today, including alleviating environmental injustices & health disparities.
Are the goals outlined in the Moonshot achievable?
While intensified federal leadership paves the way for tremendous progress, achieving the President’s ambitious goal of reducing cancer deaths by at least 50 percent over the next 25 years will require investment in prevention, tapping government programs and providing policy incentives for businesses to redesign products so they don’t make people sick.
CFE looks forward to collaborating with the White House Cancer Moonshot coordinator and the Cancer Cabinet to lift the burden of cancer within our generation by addressing the environmental causes of cancer.