Is Being Too Clean Making Us Sick?
January 2013Dear Get In Front Supporter,
Happy New Year! We are delighted to have you with us as we begin another year of work that helps us all Get In Front of cancer. With an eye to the new year, we’ve focused this issue of In Front on the future of many topics related to cancer. From the most cutting-edge research to help you and your loved ones lower your risk to work that will expand resources for those who are living with the disease now, this issue of In Front will give you a glimpse into some of CPIC’s most promising areas of advancement on cancer. We’ve also featured my response to the just-released national annual report on cancer.
CEO of CPIC Responds to National Report on Cancer
The Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, which is based on data collected by CPIC and other institutions across the nation, has just been released. This year’s report shows declines in overall cancer deaths and in the incidence of some common cancers, but increases in the incidence of others, including human papillomavirus (HPV)-associated cancers. CPIC’s CEO, Sally Glaser, Ph.D., notes, “The continued declines in lung and colon cancer incidence indicates some important prevention efforts (smoking cessation, screening) are working and should continue. But the rise in HPV-related cancers demonstrates that people need to protect themselves by being vaccinated against HPV, which is now possible.” Dr. Glaser, whose expertise includes virus-associated cancers, adds, “Sometimes infection or other consequences of viruses lead cells to grow uncontrollably and become cancer. Certain strains of HPV, the most common sexually transmitted disease among adults worldwide, can lead to cervical or other HPV-related cancers.” Dr. Glaser says vaccination to prevent HPV infection is important because, by extension, it also prevents most HPV-related cancers.
Is Being Too Clean Making Us Sick?
In a recent post for the Stanford Medical School blog Scope, CPIC’s Christina Clarke, Ph.D., discusses new research based on something that’s contrary to popular belief about cleanliness. She references the “hygiene hypothesis,” which suggests that living in highly hygienic environments is actually making many people sick. Overly clean environments, especially in childhood, are thought to result in a miscalibration of the immune system, making it attack things that are not harmful to the body. These kinds of environments are now understood to have contributed to the skyrocketing occurrences of asthma, allergies, and autoimmune disease in recent decades. Dr. Clarke indicates that CPIC scientists and colleagues at Stanford are studying whether these kinds of associations also hold for deadly breast and colon cancers occurring later in life. She also previews future avenues for immunologic means of cancer prevention.
The Pipeline: Contributing Expertise in Studying Neighborhood Factors
As CPIC’s Scarlett Lin Gomez, Ph.D., has said before, “Cancer prevention is not just about making choices as an individual. Equally important is the environment around that person, such as his or her access to health care, affordable fresh fruits and vegetables, and the amount of support available from the community and neighbors.” As it turns out, similar neighborhood factors may be important to cancer survival, as well. Dr. Gomez and her team just received continued funding to contribute her social and built environment expertise to the Pathways study that is investigating factors related to breast cancer survival. “We are using state-of-the-art geographic information systems (GIS) to gain a broader understanding of how and what aspects of our environments influence cancer and cancer survival, and how this may vary for different communities and individuals,” says Dr. Gomez. “It will ultimately help us do a more specific job of preventing cancer and improving survival.”
Where it Can’t Yet Be Prevented: The Impact and Future of CPIC Community Education
For the past 39 years, CPIC’s Community Education Program has been an invaluable resource to the community, offering conferences and seminars, websites, print materials, and individual assistance to cancer patients and their loved ones. “The amount of cancer information that’s now available online and from other sources, as well as the number of medical specialists patients have to see, is overwhelming” says program director Pam Priest Naeve. “We help individuals understand which questions are the most important to ask, and provide them with critical information about cancer that is current and comes from credible resources.” The Community Education Program has enabled thousands to advocate for themselves, to make informed decisions about their health and healthcare, and to navigate a complex medical system. Community education staff will be working toward offering more programs, expanding the distribution and translations of print materials, and keeping registration fees low so that cancer education is accessible to all who need it.
Do Flame Retardants Increase Breast Cancer Risk?
In September, the New York Times ran a story on the potential danger of flame retardants in furniture, revealing the tension between perceived fire safety and exposure to toxic chemicals. Part of the problem with chemicals used as flame retardants – such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) – is that while they help manufacturers meet fire safety regulations, they may harm people who are exposed to them, as the overall endocrine disrupting properties of these compounds is well documented. CPIC’s Peggy Reynolds, Ph.D., David Nelson, Ph.D., and Pamela Horn Ross, Ph.D., are leading the first large-scale study of breast cancer risk and exposure to fire retardants. Their investigation is based on specimens from California Teachers Study participants and is in collaboration with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control for the measurement of contaminants in human tissues. This work is essential to inform public health practices and regulatory action to curb unnecessary exposures to the toxins.
© Cancer Prevention Institute of California