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Release Date: 09/17/97
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Leading health experts from across the country, meeting at the first-ever national conference to explore possible links between childhood cancer and environmental causes, recommended a federal strategy to guide the nation’s future prevention research in this area. The conference was convened Sept. 15-16 by the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Carol M. Browner.
While the death rate from childhood cancer has declined, there has been a steady increase in the number of cases reported during the past two decades, and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates that an additional 8,800 new cases of childhood cancer will be diagnosed this year. According to NCI, the incidence of one type of brain cancer (glioma) among children has increased by 39.6 percent from 1973 to 1994; there also were increases in acute lymphoblastic leukemia, Wilms’ tumor (a tumor of the kidney) and testicular cancer.

The research strategies called for at the conference include:
      _better interdisciplinary and collaborative studies of suspected environmental causes and mechanisms of childhood cancer;
      _the establishment of a National Childhood Cancer Registry, standardizing information such as exposure history and family health data;
      _more joint prevention efforts between scientists and communities focused on high risk infants and children; and
      _better techniques for screening chemicals suspected of causing health effects in children.

This October, Administrator Browner, along with Donna E. Shalala, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), will be co-chairing a federal Interagency Task Force meeting that will continue to build on the work conducted at this conference.

“We all know that children, because their bodies are still developing, are more susceptible than adults to environmental threats,” said EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner. “We have a responsibility -- a duty to our kids, a duty to future generations -- to explore and investigate and know everything we can about the potential links between childhood cancer and environmental toxins, and prevent exposure to these threats.”

“We have a great deal to learn about the causes of childhood cancer, and we need to make the investment to understand these diseases better,” said HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala, who is co-chairing the Interagency Task Force with Browner. “This conference represents an important step that may help us learn how to prevent childhood cancers in future generations.”

President Clinton recently directed all federal agencies to make protection of children’s health and safety a high priority in everything they do. The conference was part of the Agency’s goal to protect children from environmentally related diseases and health threats. Earlier this year Browner established the Agency’s Office of Children’s Health Protection to address the wide array of complex threats to children’s health, from air pollution that can exacerbate asthma to toxic chemicals that can lead to serious health problems. Browner has directed the EPA to take into account the unique vulnerabilities of children in setting all major standards and regulations. EPA is also reviewing its most significant existing regulations to ensure they protect children. Additionally, the Agency and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, a part of HHS, are currently accepting proposals to create federal research centers dedicated to protecting the health of children from environmental threats.

Health experts who participated in the conference, included scientists from the National Cancer Institute, Columbia University, and the University of Southern California, presented their perspective on a broad range of issues including the special vulnerability of children to environmental toxins, studies on the role of parental occupational exposures, trends in childhood cancer, and methods used to study environmental factors in childhood cancer. Participants discussed specific recommendations and research strategies that will assist in assessing the current state of knowledge and setting priorities for future research. These efforts will contribute to a coordinated, comprehensive national research strategy to guide the nation in its efforts to protect children from cancer.

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