Misconceptions About Environmental Pollution, Pesticides and the Causes of Cancer
Sunday, March 01, 1998
by Bruce N. Ames and Lois Swirsky Gold
Table of Contents
- Executive Summary
- Clearing Up Cancer Misconceptions
- Misconception #1: Cancer Rates Are Soaring
- Misconception #2: Environmental Synthetic Chemicals Are An Important Cause of Human Cancer
- Misconception #3: Reducing Pesticide Residues Is an Effective Way to Prevent Diet-Related Cancer The Program in Action
- Misconception #4: Identification of Carcinogenic Chemicals Should Be the Primary Strategy for Preventing Human Cancer
- Misconception #5: Human Exposures to Carcinogens and Other Potential Hazards Are Nearly All Due to Synthetic Chemicals
- Misconception #6: Cancer Risks to Humans Can Be Assessed By Standard High-Dose Animal Cancer Tests
- Misconception #7: Synthetic Chemicals Pose Greater Carcinogenic Hazards than Natural Chemicals
- Misconception #8: The Toxicology of Synthetic Chemicals Is Different from That of Natural Chemicals
- Misconception #9: Pesticides and Other Synthetic Chemicals Are Disrupting Hormones
- Misconception #10: Regulation of Low, Hypothetical Risks Is Effective in Advancing Public Health
- About the Authors
Misconception #1: Cancer Rates Are Soaring
Cancer death rates overall in the U.S. (excluding lung cancer due to smoking) have declined 16 percent since 1950.1 If lung cancer is included, mortality rates have increased over time, but recently have declined in men due to decreased smoking.
- The types of cancer deaths that have decreased are primarily stomach, cervical, uterine and colorectal.
- The types that have increased are primarily lung cancer (90 percent is due to smoking, as are 35 percent of all cancer deaths in the U.S.), melanoma (probably due to sunburns) and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Cancer death rates overall (excluding lung cancer) have declined 16 percent since 1950."
The rise in incidence rates in older age groups for some cancers, e.g., prostate, can be explained by known factors such as improved screening.2 As one study noted, "The reason for not focusing on the reported incidence of cancer is that the scope and precision of diagnostic information, practices in screening and early detection, and criteria for reporting cancer have changed so much over time that trends in incidence are not reliable."3 Life expectancy has continued to rise since 1950.