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Time for a cancer prevention plan, Mr. President

Kristin Schafer's picture
Kristin Schafer
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Child with cancerChildhood. Cancer. These two words should have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Childhood is about exploration and discovery, joyful learning about the world around us. Cancer is about fear, roller coasters of painful treatment and hopeful remission, and all too often, death.

Yet the two words are indeed linked. Childhood cancers — including brain cancer and leukemia — have been on a steady rise in this country for the last 20 years. And increased exposure to cancer-causing chemicals is known to be one of the reasons behind this horrifying trend. It's time to turn the numbers around.

February is Cancer Prevention Month, and PAN is working with partners across the country to get President Obama to develop a long-overdue cancer action plan in which "prevention" includes reducing our exposure — and our children's exposure — to chemicals that cause cancer. Not only is this common sense, it's the urgent recommendation of the scientists who produced last year's President's Cancer Panel report.

Following the science

Here's what cancer scientists are saying about chemicals and children's cancer:

The problem is we are putting so many new chemicals out into our children's environment, and our bodies have never seen these things before. Our bodies don't know how to protect themselves . . . [The chemicals] harm the blood cells related to leukemia or brain cells and show up years later.
- Sean Palfrey, MD, professor of clinical pediatrics and public health at Boston University

Opportunities for eliminating or minimizing cancer-causing and cancer-promoting environmental exposures must be acted upon to protect all Americans, but especially children. They are at special risk due to their smaller body mass and rapid physical development, both of which magnify their vulnerability to known or suspected carcinogens.
- Dr. Margaret Kripke & Dr. LaSalle Leffall, President's Cancer Panelists

The first of these quotations ran in a recent article from Environmental News Service, reporting on the re-introduction late last month of legislation that would mobilize government resources and expertise to help communities deal with clusters of childhood cancer and other diseases.

Childhood cancers have been on a steady rise in this country for the last 20 years.

The bi-partisan bill, co-sponsored by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID), is also referred to as Trevor's Law. This honors childhood cancer survivor Trevor Schaefer, who as a teenager organized Idaho's first childhood cancer awareness walk, then went on to establish a foundation which, among other things, supports investigation of the links between toxins and cancer.

Facing cancer with courage

There are many, many other stories of astonishing courage in the face of childhood cancer. Another example: Christine Brouwer founded Mira's Movement in 2008 after her 4-year-old daughter died from brain cancer. The group advocates on behalf of children with cancer and their families, and Christine has called for deep reforms of our national laws governing toxic chemicals. Her voice is part of a growing grassroots movement pushing for chemical policy reform.

Last fall, we presented the White House with thousands of signatures from our supporters urging a rapid response to the Cancer Panel report. While we got their attention, we haven't yet seen any progress, or heard a firm commitment to make cancer prevention a priority. So now we're upping the ante, working with partners to mobilize tens of thousands to call for a strong national cancer action plan. Please add your voice to this national effort.

We're hoping President Obama will show as much courage in confronting this national crisis as Trevor, Mira and her family, and thousands more like them are showing in the face of cancer each and every day.

Take Action >> Tell the Obama Administration it's time for a cancer prevention plan.

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