Cancer Task Force's new strategy fails to address environmental chemicals as risk factor for cancer | Breast Cancer UK

Cancer Task Force’s new strategy fails to address environmental chemicals as risk factor for cancer

Published 20 Jul 2015

Breast Cancer UK has reacted with disappointment to the Cancer Task Force report; ‘Achieving world class cancer outcomes: a Strategy for England’, (released yesterday) which sets out how to transform cancer services in England. 

Reacting to the publication of the Strategy, Lynn Ladbrook, CEO of Breast Cancer UK said “Whilst we recognise and appreciate the effort that has gone into this Strategy, we cannot help but be disappointed at its failure to recommend measures that would help us better understand and begin to tackle the harmful environmental chemical exposures that could be increasing our risk of cancers.” 

The new 5 year cancer strategy states that its aim is to “spearhead a radical upgrade in prevention and public health” but sadly there is little evidence of anything “radical” in their prevention measures and objectives.  

The Strategy’s ‘prevention’ targets are once again limited to lifestyle choices; smoking and alcohol consumption which have been the focus of cancer prevention strategies since their inception. Yet still cancer incidence rates continue to rise, on average by 2% per year according to the Report. Breast Cancer UK also point out that smoking cessation programmes and efforts to tackle obesity and inactivity are already in place as part of wider efforts to tackle ill health. Therefore, in reality, whilst the Strategy can be said to have reinforced the need for action in these areas it is questionable whether it can be said to be a “radical upgrade” in approach.  

The Report acknowledges that annual cancer incidence rates in England are expected to reach 300,000 by 2020 and 360,000 by 2030.    Whilst this increase is in part driven by an aging and growing population, the Strategy acknowledges that it is also driven by shifts in lifestyles, but fails to acknowledge the role that our environment, including our exposure to harmful chemicals, plays in increasing cancer risk. This is despite estimates that around 13%* of cancers in women in developed countries are thought to be attributable to the environment. Based on these figures, it is possible that around 6,500 breast cancer cases of the 50,000 diagnosed every year in the UK could be prevented, but only if we begin to tackle the environmental contaminants that are associated with the disease.   

Breast Cancer UK’s detailed submission to the Independent Cancer Task Force called for greater investment and research into the environmental and chemical causes of cancer and the need for a prevention strategy which looked beyond lifestyle and genetics. See also Breast Cancer UK’s response to the Cancer Task Force Statement of Intent.

Breast Cancer UK welcomes the proposal to roll out a cancer education programme to secondary schools and would be pleased to contribute to this in order to help raise awareness of changes we could all make to help reduce our exposures to harmful chemicals. However, there is also a need for the Government and manufacturers to play their part and to implement measures which would reduce public exposures to harmful chemicals in everyday products and in our environment.  

Sadly, whilst the Task Force has much to offer, it makes no concessions on the areas of harmful chemicals and environmental contaminants and leaves much for us here at Breast Cancer UK to do.

Breast Cancer UK work to raise awareness of the environmental and chemical causes of breast cancer and provide advice on how women can reduce their exposure to harmful chemicals which might increase their risk of developing the disease.   

For further information press contacts:

Lynn Ladbrook, Chief Executive - 07786 393181

Louise Bowers, Communications Manager - 07930 854 527

Notes to editors:

  1. Breast Cancer UK works to save lives and reduce breast cancer rates by tackling the environmental and chemical causes of the disease. For more information on how to reduce your risk of chemical exposure, or how harmful chemicals are linked to breast cancer please visit relevant sections of our website: Follow us: Facebook: breastcancerukTwitter: @BreastCancer_UK
  2. Our submission to Cancer Task Force and our response to their statement of intent.
  3. Cancer Task Force report - Achieving world class cancer outcomes: a Strategy for England.

Help us prevent breast cancer Make a donation now