Europe-wide cancer group calls for action on hormone disruptors

Written by Christel Schaldemose on 9 January 2015 in Opinion
Opinion

Christel Schaldemose is calling on the EU to take urgent action in the fight against cancer by identifying and eliminating endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs).

A representative of one of Europe's most influential cancer organisations, the association of European cancer leagues (ECL) recently told a meeting of MEPs against cancer that curbing exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals should become a central part of cancer prevention strategy in Europe.

ECL, which focuses on the prevention and control of cancer, brings together national and regional cancer leagues with a staff of more than 6000 throughout Europe. Its director Wendy Tse Yared said that rapid rises in rates of breast and prostate cancer in recent decades could not be explained by improved diagnostics.

She noted that this upward trend coincided with an increase in chemicals and that sufficient evidence now exists that endocrine disrupting chemicals heighten cancer risk.

Effective regulation could contribute to reductions in hormonal cancers, including of the breast, which is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women and of the prostate, the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men.

It may also help to bring down rates of testicular cancer, which is increasing among young men in Europe. A recent study by Nordic countries on male reproductive health problems associated with these chemicals suggested that endocrine disrupting chemicals might be responsible for up to 40 per cent of all cases of testicular cancer.

"What is needed now is a proper identification of EDCs – one that ensures these harmful chemicals are found and ultimately eliminated"

Dutch toxicologist Dr Majorie B.M. van Duursen told the meeting that numerous studies on breast cancer showed that exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals, such as BPA, PBDE and pesticides, can adversely affect the normal development of the mammary gland, potentially making it more susceptible to cancers.

She stressed that one or two new studies were appearing each day on endocrine disrupting chemicals and chronic conditions, including hormonal cancers, infertility, obesity and diabetes.

A review by the world health organisation in 2012 recorded the considerable advances in the scientific evidence that had been made since 2002. No-one can say that we don't know enough to justify reducing people's exposure to these chemicals, said Dr Duursen.

The not-for-profit Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), which brings together over 70 member organisations to address how environmental protection can improve health in the European Union has been advocating stronger action to reduce exposure to harmful chemicals for many years.

Genon K. Jensen, HEAL's director told the meeting that her members, which include cancer groups, are convinced that exposure to EDCs is a likely explanation of why cancers that are hormone dependent have been rising.

She said that HEAL was part of a coalition of non-governmental organisations called 'EDC-Free Europe' that was helping ordinary individuals to respond to the EU consultation on EDCs. An online platform launched five weeks ago has allowed more than 10,000 individuals to respond.

But despite the rapidly growing scientific evidence and the growing public concern, the delays in effective action continue. What is needed now is a proper identification of EDCs – one that ensures these harmful chemicals are found and ultimately eliminated.

My hope is that this MEPs against cancer meeting will help convince the commission that action now needs to happen. Not tomorrow, but today.

About the author

Christel Schaldemose is vice-president of MEPs against cancer

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