The environment and cancer: Are you at risk? (w/VIDEO)

March 18, 2015 | by Valerie Zapanta

How does the environment affect our health? Specifically, how does it affect our risk of cancer?

City of Hope physicians and researchers recently answered those questions in an Ask the Experts event in Corona, California, explaining the underlying facts about how the environment can affect our health.

Moderator Linda H. Malkas, Ph.D., associate chair and professor of molecular and cellular biology, led the discussion, giving voice to the concerns that many people have about the environment and cancer risk, and asking tough questions of the panelists.

The featured speakers were: Misagh Karimi, M.D., assistant clinical professor in the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research at City of Hope | Corona; James Lacey, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Population Sciences; Paul Mandelin, D.O., assistant clinical professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology at City of Hope | Corona; and Vijay Trisal, M.D., medical director of City of Hope's community practices and an associate clinical professor of surgical oncology.

Here are a couple of questions addressed during the program.

No one in my family has had cancer. Am I still at risk of the disease?

Misagh Karimi: “One of the important things to remember is that when we look at the epidemiology, most cancers are not inherited, but that doesn’t mean there is a gene that doesn’t contribute to that type of cancer. If we look across the population of patients that have cancer, most of them have no family history, so it is a combination of environmental factors that we are seeing more and more of that influence the underlying genetic abnormalities.”

Do power lines cause cancer?

James Lacey: “This is a myth that comes up often. And it is one I’ve thought of often, because one of my siblings was diagnosed with leukemia as a child (thankfully he is doing fine now), and he was diagnosed about seven years after we had moved to a house that had power lines running in the backyard. It is human nature to put the two together and ask, is this more than just a coincidence? That is where the research and scientific method come in. And, based on all the data that has been collected thus far, there is nothing to indicate that, across the population, everyone that lives close to power lines is significantly more likely to get leukemia than people who aren’t living close to power lines.

"We, as population researchers, try to say what is happening at the population level. Do we have enough data to say that: Here is something that you should clearly tell the public that something is risky or here is something we can tell the public that something is safe? Oftentimes, the answer is somewhere in the middle, but power lines and leukemia is one of those questions that is leaning much more closely to: Power lines are not a major cause of leukemia.”

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Watch more of the “Cancer Urban Legends: The Environment” presentation above, and hear the full conversation. You can also watch past Ask the Experts programs on City of Hope's YouTube channel. Check in regularly for future Ask the Experts events.

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