Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Breast cancer triggers

Do chemical contaminants in the environment cause breast cancer? An excellent article in the Los Angeles Times describes the most comprehensive study to date of the evidence linking breast cancer to environmental pollutants (read the whole study here).

The results? More than 200 chemicals, including industrial solvents, pesticides, dyes, cosmetics ingredients and diesel exhaust, cause breast cancer in laboratory studies. Scientists have long known that only a small minority of breast cancer cases are linked to genetic factors, and that environmental triggers must play an important role. Unfortunately, the study of environmental triggers of breast cancer has taken a back-seat to other factors such as diet and exercise. But because breast cancer has become such a common disease, and because our exposure to these carcinogenic contaminants is so widespread, "if even a small percentage is due to preventable environmental factors, modifying these factors would spare thousands of women," according to the study's authors.

Unfortunately, in the US, government regulators typically wait until they have all the evidence of human toxicity to take action, rather than relying on the red flags raised by animal studies. Tufts University cell biologist Anna Soto, interviewed for the LA Times story, disagrees with this approach and urged preventive action.

"When you look at their list of chemicals, we are exposed to all of it," Soto said. "We will never have the whole picture, and it will take many, many years to collect epidemiological evidence, so we should take some preventive measures now."

So what can we do? States and local governments can adopt stricter emissions and drinking water standards to reduce the exposure of the whole population to carcinogenic compounds like diesel exhaust and dry cleaning solvents. As individuals, we can buy safer products and eat cleaner diets of fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly those that are grown organically. Check out PESTed's Go Organic page for resources, and be sure to visit the new Women's Health and the Environment toolkit for lots of great information that you can share with the women in your life.

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