WHO backs work-related cancer action call

Urgent action is needed to tackle the occupational and environmental exposures “responsible for a substantial percentage of all cancers,” a new report says. The paper published this month in the online journal Environmental Health Perspectives, says “credible estimates” suggest these exposures could account for up to 1 in every 5 cancers.

The authors, Philip J Landrigan of New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Carolina Espina and Maria Neira of the World Health Organisation (WHO) write: “Despite their proven feasibility and cost-effectiveness, efforts to prevent environmental cancers have lagged. In contrast to vigorous and well-coordinated global efforts to prevent cancers caused by tobacco, much more needs to be done in environmental cancer control and to further develop strategies for prevention of environmental causes of cancer.”

The paper notes “credible estimates from the World Health Organisation and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) suggest that the fraction of global cancer currently attributable to toxic environmental exposures is between 7 per cent and 19 per cent.” It adds: “Primary prevention—environmental interventions that halt the exposures that cause cancer – is the single most effective strategy. Primary prevention reduces cancer incidence, and it saves lives and billions of dollars.”

The authors summarise the ‘Asturias Declaration’ agreed at a March 2011 WHO-convened conference, saying the “recommendations will also prevent recurrence of such tragedies as the global asbestos epidemic”.

The declaration, which is posted on both the IARC and WHO websites, includes a call on WHO to “develop a global framework for control of environmental and occupational carcinogens that concentrates on the exposures identified by IARC as proven or probable causes of human cancer”.

Corporations should comply with all rules and regulations for prevention of environmental and occupational cancers and adhere to the same standards in all countries – developed and developing – in which they and their subsidiaries operate, it adds.

To be successful, these prevention efforts “will require partnerships among countries and collaborations of public health authorities with ministries of environment, labour, finance, and trade,” it concludes.

* Landrigan PJ, Espina C, Neira M. Global prevention of environmental and occupational cancer, Environmental Health Perspectives, volume 119:a280-a281, 2011. doi:10.1289/ehp.1103871. The Asturias Declaration: A call to action [pdf].

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