There are figures that leave you speechless, and trigger the anger of scientists. Why the environmental problem is not tackled head-on in the fight against childhood cancers ? This is the debate raised by Professor Philip Landrigan, director of the Global Observatory for Planetary Health at Boston College and project director of the Monaco Science Center, who published, on June 8, a study on the link between the increase in cancers in young children and chemistry. pollution.
If the research dedicated to treatments has continued to develop during the last fifty years, at the same time the number of pediatric cancers has increased. The results are serious: since 1976, the incidence rate (appearance of new cases in a given period) of leukemia has increased by 21 % In the U.S. The one with brain cancer of 45 %, and testicular cancer in 51 % So much so that cancer is now “ the leading cause of death in American children under the age of 15 »we learn. “ Too fast to be genetic »This increase is not only explained by better access to medical care, insists the researcher with Reporter.
At least 120 dangerous chemicals
For Philip Landrigan, the observation is clear: it is imperative to look at the side of external factors, in other words, environmental factors. In his crosshairs: manufactured chemicals, materials produced in astronomical quantities since the 1950s and whose “ Global production is expected to double by 2030 ».
Its consequences on health have not ceased to be documented for many years. Among the most toxic that pollute the entire planet: polychlorinated biphenyls (an electrical insulator whose production is prohibited in France), multiple pesticides, brominated flame retardants (used in plastics, textiles, household appliances) or phthalates (plasticizers).
“ We fly without radar. »
Based on a careful review of published epidemiological and toxicological data on more than a thousand chemicals, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), under theWHO, revealed that at least 120 of them are direct cause of cancers. Even more disturbing, “ exposure in the first 1,000 days of life is especially dangerous »Philip Landrigan insists.
Nevertheless, “ most of these carcinogens are still allowed on the market »denounces the American scientist who advocates a paradigm shift to fight against what he describes as real “ chemical crisis ». In other words, there are thousands of manufactured chemicals that children are exposed to every day that have never been tested for toxicity. “ We fly without radar »sums it up in a concise formula.
“ Little or no evaluation of its potential dangers. »
After ReporterAndré Cicolella, president of the Réseau Environnement Santé association, agrees: “ This study comes, once again, to certify what we already know. But the denial of the link between the evolution of the number of cancers and the environment remains paradoxical. » Although this link continues to be proven, he believes that neither the government nor the investigation is analyzing it enough.
For this chemical engineer and toxicologist, separating the analysis of pediatric cancers from that of adults that “ increase by 1 respectively % annually » represents a deep “ aberration ». “ This disease is not just a mutation due to age. It is the result of ten mechanisms that interact with each other in which we find chemical substances, endocrine disruptors… According to several scientific studies, certain cancers such as breast or prostate cancer begin during pregnancy, and therefore understand the evolution of cancers in children will provide a better understanding of cancer in adults »he explains.
“ It is urgent to break this omerta about the environmental causes of cancer. »
As the main obstacle, Philip Landrigan cites the lack of money dedicated to this public health problem. The US government agency for cancer research, the National Cancer Institute, only spends about 1 % of your pediatric cancer budget dedicated to research for environmental causes.
To get out of this dramatic balance, he defends the idea that policies on chemical products must henceforth be based on the precautionary principle. “ One reason for the increase in these childhood cancers is that in most countries the chemicals produced are presumed harmless until they cause disease or environmental damage and are marketed with little or no evaluation of their potential hazards. »emphasizes Philip Landrigan.
To reverse the trend, he launches a hopeful appeal to the world of research: “ The time has come for the oncology and public health communities to come together to tackle the rising incidence of childhood cancer together. » and deploy research programs “ focused on prevention »pointing “ to discover the environmental causes of malignant tumors in children ».
According to CIRC forecasts, the number of new cancer cases in France will increase in twenty years from 478,000 to 579,000 (+21 %) and the number of deaths from 186,000 to 252,000 (+35 %). To respond to this crisis, President Emmanuel Macron presented the fourth plan against cancer on February 4, 2021. Here, too, environmental causes, such as endocrine disruptors, are sidelined in favor of tobacco and alcohol. “ It is urgent to break this omertá on the environmental causes of cancerAndré Cicolella concludes. In the last sixteen years, cancers affecting people aged 20 to 39 have increased by 39 % An abnormal progression that is not ready to stop. »
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