New study in American Cancer Society Journal: ‘Climate change is already increasing cancer risk’ – Frets over ‘carbon footprint of cancer care’

American Cancer Society Journals

CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians

Climate change and cancer

First published:18 May 2020


The prospects for further progress in cancer prevention and control in this century are bright but face an easily overlooked threat from climate change, which can impact both exposure to cancer risk factors and access to cancer care.

Climate change is already increasing cancer risk through increased exposure to carcinogens after extreme weather events such as hurricanes and wildfires. In addition to increasing cancer risk, climate change is also impacting cancer survival. Extreme weather events can impede patients’ access to cancer care and the ability of cancer treatment facilities to deliver care.7 For these reasons, cancer treatment facilities should ensure that their disaster preparedness plans can withstand climate threats and should evaluate and mitigate their own contributions to greenhouse gas emissions. Fortunately, many actions that address climate change also reduce carcinogen releases or exposures.

Climate change creates conditions favorable to the greater production of and exposure to known carcinogens. Extreme weather events are already increasing the amount of carcinogens in communities.

Climate Change Disrupts Access to Cancer Care
Climate change can disrupt access to and receipt of care throughout the cancer care continuum. Successful prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer can require multiple visits to medical facilities. This makes patients with cancer especially vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters on access to care.23

Extreme weather events also threaten the laboratory and clinic infrastructure dedicated to cancer care in the United States. Many cancer treatment facilities have begun to make themselves more resilient to the threats of extreme weather and climate change.

To date, no studies have estimated the carbon footprint of cancer care. Some emission sources specific to cancer care are listed in Table 1. Cancer prevention and early detection usually occur in primary care settings, whereas diagnosis, staging, and treatment (surgery, systemic therapy, and radiotherapy) commonly occur in more specialized facilities. Medical devices are indispensable for effective cancer screening, diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, and palliative care. The energy expenditure associated with operating cancer treatment facilities and medical devices, as well as the manufacturing, packaging, and shipment of devices and pharmaceuticals, contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions in cancer care.

Some cancer treatment facilities have begun to consider their own carbon footprint and started a process to achieve carbon neutrality. However, the proportion of health care institutions reporting environmental sustainability activities lags behind other economic sectors,53 and it is not clear how many institutions involved in cancer care delivery currently assess the climate or broader environmental impact of their activities. Encouraging carbon footprint measurement and public reporting, possibly through the NCI’s and CoC’s accreditation processes, would help identify opportunities for decreasing the environmental impact of the health care system and work as an incentive for the implementation of sustainability efforts.

Health Co‐Benefits of Climate Change Mitigation
Because many anthropogenic drivers of climate change are also carcinogens,54 climate mitigation efforts have health co‐benefits, and especially benefits to cancer prevention and outcomes. All stakeholders concerned with the prevention and treatment of cancer have much at stake with climate change and a heavy dependence on fossil fuels, which accounts for nearly 80% of all the carbon pollution.55 T

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. Climate change and continued reliance on fossil fuels push that 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.


Two Rebuttals to the study here: 

No, Climate Change Does Not Cause Cancer – Despite claims from new ‘preposterous’ American Cancer Society study – James Taylor debunks study: “The line of reasoning is preposterous. And even if the ACS’s line of reasoning were sound, the line of reasoning would indicate that climate change is reducing cancer incidence and mortality.”

SHAMELESS ALARMISTS/MEDIA SPREAD CLIMATE CHANGE CANCER HORROR STORYCNBC writes, “Extreme weather disasters also lower cancer survival rates. One study shows that cancer patients were 19 percent more likely to die when hurricane declarations were made during their therapy because of treatment interruptions compared with patients who had regular access to care.