Any new cancer prevention strategy must look beyond lifestyle and genetics

Published 7 Apr 2015

The independent Cancer Taskforce, established by NHS England earlier this year, published  their 'Statement of Intent' last week.  It assesses the opportunity for improved cancer care and sets out the key questions, initiatives and ambitions that the strategy (to be published in the summer) will aim to address.   However our response was mixed.

On the one hand, there are a number of positives in the Task Force's Statement:  Breast Cancer UK welcome for example, that the strategy will give greater emphasis to prevention initiatives; we agree that a key question that must be addressed is "how do we reduce the growth in the number of new cancer cases"; and, we certainly hope that the strategy achieves the ambition that "by 2020 we would start to see a discernible fall in age standardised incidence."   Sadly, however,  the prevention initiatives outlined in the Task Force's Statement of Intent fail to really inspire and in our view fall short of the "high level ambitions" stated.  

The Statement of Intent appears to limit prevention strategies to lifestyle interventions, but makes no mention of the need to tackle the broader environmental and exogenous causes of cancer, such as exposure to harmful chemicals including those that mimic or interfere with the human hormone system. We at Breast Cancer UK are broadly supportive of certain lifestyle intervention strategies, but we do not believe this is the only way cancers can be prevented.

As we stated in our original submission, there is growing global concern [1]  that exposure to harmful chemicals and particularly endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) could be contributing to an increased risk of many diseases including cancers which we think warrants the need for a change in tack and a fresh approach to cancer prevention initiatives.  For example, we believe that an independent task force should be established to develop a comprehensive national strategy on the environmental factors related to cancer; and that more must be done to improve our understanding of the exogenous (external) causes of the disease.  We have called for a commitment to increase cancer research funding into the links between environmental pollutants/harmful chemicals and cancer and for pregnant women to be given help and advice on how to reduce their exposures to help protect their unborn children.    Sadly none of this is reflected in the Statement of Intent - but we hope it is not too late to reinforce our message.  

We have written a follow up letter to the Cancer Task Force seeking reassurances that the final strategy will not miss this opportunity of setting out a fresh approach to cancer prevention and that they will look at new ways in which we can help to prevent this terrible disease.   

You can have your say too - the Taskforce will also be holding meetings to engage with patients and a range of stakeholders across the country.  Visit their website for more details. 

Read in full our Letter to the Cancer Task Force.

Read Breast Cancer UK's original Submission to the Cancer Task Force

[1] E.g. see UNEP/WHO (2013). State of the science of endocrine disrupting chemicals 2012; European Environment Agency (2012). The Weybridge+15 (1996–2011) Report: The impacts of endocrine disrupters on wildlife, people and their environments and Report of the Interagency Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Coordinating Committee (IBCERCC 2013) and also 2013 Berlaymont Declaration on Endocrine Disruptors

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