Funding Will Provide New Insight Into the Causes of Breast and Prostate Cancer

January 13, 2000

Today, the White House will announce that the President's FY 2001 budget will include an unprecedented funding increase to explore the largely unknown environmental causes of diseases, like breast and prostate cancer. This major initiative, which is advocated by the American Cancer Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics, will provide $27 million, 56 percent greater than last year's funding level, for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Environmental Health Lab to: assist communities investigating unusual incidence of cancer or other diseases; identify regions of the country in which individuals are at increased risk of dangerous exposure to carcinogens and other toxic substances; and ensure rapid evaluation of the impact of public health emergencies. Because of the startling lack of evidence pinpointing the environmental cause of cancers and many other diseases, these studies should play a major role in determining new, more effective diagnostic tests and preventive techniques.

ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS ARE LINKED TO INCREASED INCIDENCE OF CANCER AND OTHER DISEASES. Studies tracking patterns of cancer development and birth defects suggest the influence of environmental factors.

Environmental contaminants are associated with a wide range of birth defects and other diseases. Of the120,000 U.S. babies born each year with a birth defect, 8,000 die during their first year of life, making birth defects the leading cause of infant mortality in the United States and contributing substantially to childhood morbidity and long-term disability. Hundreds of thousands of cases of asthma and lead poisoning are also associated with environmental contaminants.

Initial scientific evidence demonstrates that increased risk of breast cancer may be associated with unknown environmental factors. According to the American Cancer Society, one out of nine American women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, and breast cancer is now the leading cause of cancer for women between the ages of 35 and 54. Despite decades of research, over half of all breast cancer cases cannot be explained by known risk factors, such as genetic predisposition, reproductive history, and diet.

Initial scientific evidence demonstrates that increased risk of prostate cancer may be associated with unknown environmental factors. Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer found in American men other than skin cancer, and disproportionately impacts African-American men. Researchers estimate that there will be about 180,000 new cases of prostate cancer in the United States this year, 36 percent of all cancer cases, and that about 37,000 men will die of this disease. However, researchers estimate that only 10 percent of prostate cancers are due to genetic predisposition.

Lack of research on the association between environmental exposure and breast cancer prostate cancer, and other diseases represents a lost opportunity to improve public health. Research on the impact of environmental contaminants on individual health will promote the development of improved diagnostic techniques, prevention strategies, and treatments. If exposure to chemicals in the environment was shown to be associated with only 10 percent of breast and prostate cancer cases, and we reduced or eliminated the identified hazards were reduced and eliminated, the development of these diseases in 30,000 men and women could potentially have been prevented each year.

Biomonitoring provides the critical information necessary to link exposure and disease. Biomonitoring is the measurement of toxic substances in the human body, providing information necessary to link exposure to a toxic substance and the development of diseases such as cancer and a wide range of birth defects. It identifies which groups of people are in the most danger from toxic substances, evaluates the success of preventive actions, and improves the response of public health officials to emergencies. This technique, combined with the application of new advances in determining the genetic causes of disease, will inevitably lead to striking developments in treating and preventing cancer and other diseases.

CLINTON-GORE ADMINISTRATION MAKES MAJOR NEW INVESTMENT TO INVESTIGATE THE ENVIRONMENTAL CAUSES OF CANCER AND OTHER DISEASES. Today, the White House will announce that the President's FY 2001 budget will include a $27 million investment to:

Double the level of assistance provided to state and local public health officials investigating adverse health events potentially linked to environmental exposures. This new investment will allow epidemiologists and toxicologists at the CDC's Environmental Health Lab to double the level of critical technical support to communities to investigate increased incidence of cancer or other diseases potentially linked to toxic environmental exposures. As part of these interventions, the CDC will test the exposure of thousands of individuals to toxic substances to determine the cause of their illness. Studies that evaluate increased risk of cancer or birth defects from exposure to potential carcinogens or toxic substances will be given funding priority. When dangerous exposures are identified, CDC will work with local public health officials to take all measures necessary to protect residents from further harm.

Identify regions of the country where individuals are exposed to toxic substances that cause cancer and other diseases. Although the Environmental Health Lab has conducted studies that link exposure to the pesticide dieldrin to increased risk of breast cancer and polychlorinated biephenyls (PCBs) to increased risk non-Hodgkins lymphoma, there is currently no way to determine the national level of exposure to these dangerous substances. These new funds will allow for the routine conduct of nationwide monitoring of over 100 potentially toxic substances, including dieldrin, PCBs, and over 70 other potential carcinogens. This initiative will assess exposure to these dangerous substances among women of childbearing age, children, minorities, and the elderly and will develop a blueprint for action to prevent dangerous exposures in the future.

Ensure rapid evaluation of the impact of public health emergencies. This new initiative will also ensure that the CDC's Environmental Health Lab, together with state and local public health officials, can immediately address public health emergencies, such as widespread exposure to a toxic substance through a chemical spill or contamination of a product through a manufacturing error. Together with epidemiologists, toxicologists, and other public health personnel, the lab will conduct a comprehensive investigation to identify all sources of contamination and work with local officials to protect residents from further exposure. For example, when methyl parathion, a lethal pesticide, was illegally sprayed in thousands of homes during 1996 and 1997, the Environmental Health Lab created a new method to test for the presence of this dangerous substance and provided the laboratory support services and scientific expertise necessary to prioritize medical treatment and determine which homes should be evacuated. The funds announced today will enable the CDC to respond swiftly to future emergencies.

 Click here to return to Environmental Priorities in the President's FY2001 Budget


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