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Suk Represents NIEHS at President's Cancer Panel Meeting

By Eddy Ball
March 2009

Risk and Integrated Sciences Director Bill Suk, Ph.D.
SBRP Director and former Acting Deputy Director Bill Suk (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS took a seat at a meeting of the President's Cancer Panel (PCP) with a presentation by NIEHS Center for Risk and Integrated Sciences Director Bill Suk, Ph.D., on January 27 in Phoenix. Suk was part of a program on "Nuclear Fallout, Electromagnetic Fields and Radiation Exposure" - the final meeting in the four-part 2008-2009 PCP ( Exit NIEHS meeting series devoted to the topic of "Environmental Factors in Cancer."

The 2008-2009 PCP series involved a review of the general lines of evidence that show environmental exposures are important in cancer etiology. The panel addressed the role of "avoidable" or "preventable" factors, along with the magnitude of the role of environment.

Suk's presentation outlined the broader definition of "environment" that informs the Institute's environmental public health initiatives on many scales, ranging from microscopic to global. "For this workshop," he said at the beginning of his presentation, "we are interested in environmental health at the community level and particularly how decisions in this region can have impacts, positive or negative, on the health and well-being of people in this community."

As he discussed the gene/environment interactions that are involved in the risk for complex disease, Suk outlined the contributions that the environmental health sciences can make to improving public health in relation to fallout, electromagnetic field and radiation exposures. These include the development of advanced technologies for measuring exposures and assessing the body's responses to the environment with the goal of using the information to design new preventive and therapeutic strategies.

"While early detection strategies are critically important because they allow treatment to begin early in the course of disease," Suk said of the environmental health sciences' approach to disease, "true cancer prevention strategies aim to reduce the incidence of cancer by lessening the number of stressors that cause disease."

Suk concluded by challenging his colleagues to view the topic of "Environmental Factors in Cancer" on a global scale as an emerging epidemic of non-communicable disease. He pointed to the dramatic increase in cancer rates in developing countries and underscored the importance of understanding the heightened susceptibility of children worldwide to cancers linked to environmental factors.

Authorized by the National Cancer Act in 1971, the PCP is funded through the National Cancer Institute's Division of Extramural Activities. With the input of scientists, advocates and representatives of government agencies, the three-member panel issues reports on various aspects of cancer, annually and biannually, to fulfill its mission to monitor the development and execution of the activities of the National Cancer Program in direct reports ( Exit NIEHS to the President of the United States.

Over the years, the panel has examined quality of life for cancer patients, access to care issues, and lifestyle risk factors related to cancer. Earlier meetings ( Exit NIEHS in the 2008-2009 series explored the issues of industrial and manufacturing exposures, agricultural exposures, indoor/outdoor air pollution and water contamination.

Along with Suk and a number of distinguished grantees attending meetings in the series, the Institute's leadership was also represented by NIEHS Associate Director Chris Portier, Ph.D., at the September 16, 2008 meeting in East Brunswick, N.J.

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