In the Journals

Oncologists urged to help fight climate change as it threatens progress against cancer

Leticia M. Nogueira

Climate change is a threat to the progress made toward reducing the global burden of cancer, according to a commentary published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

“The common misperception that climate change is a distant threat to the planet based on future projections is what led us to want to describe how climate change is already impacting oncology care today,” Leticia M. Nogueira, PhD, MPH, senior principal scientist in the surveillance and health services research program at American Cancer Society, told Healio. “There are many things that we can do now to respond to this threat, and we want to help health care professionals recognize what we can do now to fight climate change as part of our mission to reduce the burden of cancer.”

Tremendous progress has been achieved in cancer prevention and control through the identification and management of risk factors, as well as improved access to care. However, climate change could impede further progress in these areas, according to Nogueira and colleagues.

Climate change has been linked to an increase in the behavior and frequency of extreme weather events, including hurricanes and wildfires, that can affect patients’ ability to seek preventive cancer care and treatment, the commentary authors wrote. Such events also have compromised laboratories and clinic infrastructure dedicated to cancer care, they added.

“As we saw with Hurricane Harvey in Houston, lessons learned from previous storms might not be enough to prepare for the next storm,” Nogueira told Healio. “Oncologists and cancer centers can be more actively engaged in mitigating climate change, as well as ensure that they have emergency preparedness plans in place.”

Extreme weather events also can create conditions favorable to increased production of and exposure to carcinogens, the commentary authors wrote.

“Advocacy for climate policies, such as the Clean Air Act, is a double win for health care professionals,” Nogueira said. “Oncologists and cancer centers should evaluate the carbon footprint of their own activities to identify opportunities for ways to reduce carcinogens.”

Moreover, certain dietary patterns may have detrimental health and environmental effects, Nogueira and colleagues wrote. Meat from ruminants appears to have the highest environmental impact, whereas plant-based foods have the lowest impact, they wrote.

Nogueira and colleagues suggested replacing animal-sourced foods with plant-based foods via guidelines provided to patients, as well as changes in food services provided across cancer centers.

Additional ways the authors suggested oncologists and cancer centers can reduce carcinogenic greenhouse gas emissions include:

increasing use of renewable energy generated on-site across cancer centers, with energy efficient, occupation-based strategies for heating, ventilation and air conditioning;

encouraging pharmaceutical companies to measure and report their carbon footprint and prioritize low-emission pharmaceuticals;

prioritizing use of energy-efficient medical devices and promoting sustainable manufacturing;

reducing use of red and processed meats and increasing use of locally and sustainably grown food;

improving accessibility of medical equipment, supplies and pharmaceuticals through public transportation and increasing use of telehealth for follow-up appointments;

encouraging suppliers to estimate their carbon footprint and prioritize use of low-emission supply chains; and

minimizing medical and food waste.

“[Although] some may view these issues as beyond the scope of responsibility of the nation’s cancer treatment facilities, one need look no further than their mission statements, all of which speak to eradicating cancer,” Nogueira and colleagues wrote. “Climate change and continued reliance on fossil fuels push this noble goal further from reach. However, if all those whose life work is to care for those with cancer made clear to the communities they serve that actions to combat climate change and lessen our use of fossil fuels could prevent cancers and improve cancer outcomes, we might see actions that address climate change flourish and the attainment of our mission to reduce suffering from cancer grow nearer.” – by Jennifer Southall

For more information:

Leticia M. Nogueira, PhD, MPH, can be reached at American Cancer Society, 250 Williams St., Suite 600, Atlanta, GA 30303; email: leticia.nogueira@cancer.org.

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.

Leticia M. Nogueira

Climate change is a threat to the progress made toward reducing the global burden of cancer, according to a commentary published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

“The common misperception that climate change is a distant threat to the planet based on future projections is what led us to want to describe how climate change is already impacting oncology care today,” Leticia M. Nogueira, PhD, MPH, senior principal scientist in the surveillance and health services research program at American Cancer Society, told Healio. “There are many things that we can do now to respond to this threat, and we want to help health care professionals recognize what we can do now to fight climate change as part of our mission to reduce the burden of cancer.”

Tremendous progress has been achieved in cancer prevention and control through the identification and management of risk factors, as well as improved access to care. However, climate change could impede further progress in these areas, according to Nogueira and colleagues.

Climate change has been linked to an increase in the behavior and frequency of extreme weather events, including hurricanes and wildfires, that can affect patients’ ability to seek preventive cancer care and treatment, the commentary authors wrote. Such events also have compromised laboratories and clinic infrastructure dedicated to cancer care, they added.

“As we saw with Hurricane Harvey in Houston, lessons learned from previous storms might not be enough to prepare for the next storm,” Nogueira told Healio. “Oncologists and cancer centers can be more actively engaged in mitigating climate change, as well as ensure that they have emergency preparedness plans in place.”

Extreme weather events also can create conditions favorable to increased production of and exposure to carcinogens, the commentary authors wrote.

“Advocacy for climate policies, such as the Clean Air Act, is a double win for health care professionals,” Nogueira said. “Oncologists and cancer centers should evaluate the carbon footprint of their own activities to identify opportunities for ways to reduce carcinogens.”

Moreover, certain dietary patterns may have detrimental health and environmental effects, Nogueira and colleagues wrote. Meat from ruminants appears to have the highest environmental impact, whereas plant-based foods have the lowest impact, they wrote.

Nogueira and colleagues suggested replacing animal-sourced foods with plant-based foods via guidelines provided to patients, as well as changes in food services provided across cancer centers.

Additional ways the authors suggested oncologists and cancer centers can reduce carcinogenic greenhouse gas emissions include:

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increasing use of renewable energy generated on-site across cancer centers, with energy efficient, occupation-based strategies for heating, ventilation and air conditioning;

encouraging pharmaceutical companies to measure and report their carbon footprint and prioritize low-emission pharmaceuticals;

prioritizing use of energy-efficient medical devices and promoting sustainable manufacturing;

reducing use of red and processed meats and increasing use of locally and sustainably grown food;

improving accessibility of medical equipment, supplies and pharmaceuticals through public transportation and increasing use of telehealth for follow-up appointments;

encouraging suppliers to estimate their carbon footprint and prioritize use of low-emission supply chains; and

minimizing medical and food waste.

“[Although] some may view these issues as beyond the scope of responsibility of the nation’s cancer treatment facilities, one need look no further than their mission statements, all of which speak to eradicating cancer,” Nogueira and colleagues wrote. “Climate change and continued reliance on fossil fuels push this noble goal further from reach. However, if all those whose life work is to care for those with cancer made clear to the communities they serve that actions to combat climate change and lessen our use of fossil fuels could prevent cancers and improve cancer outcomes, we might see actions that address climate change flourish and the attainment of our mission to reduce suffering from cancer grow nearer.” – by Jennifer Southall

For more information:

Leticia M. Nogueira, PhD, MPH, can be reached at American Cancer Society, 250 Williams St., Suite 600, Atlanta, GA 30303; email: leticia.nogueira@cancer.org.

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.