On your TV you may have seen professional athletes wearing pink sleeve bands, pink socks and shoes, pink head-bands, and most recently, baseball players using pink bats! The purpose of the Pink Ribbon organization is commendable: to raise money for research to find cures for breast cancer. Naturally, if you come down with breast cancer, you hope that a therapy to cure it is available. Nevertheless, the logo of Pink Ribbon Inc., The best protection is early detection, is misdirected. A better logo is, The best protection is prevention. Surely you would prefer not getting cancer, rather than undergoing radiation and chemotherapies or a mastectomy. Fortunately, Silent Spring and a few other non-governmental agencies are investigating how to avoid breast cancer.
I last issued a report on this dreaded cancer in February 10, 2012. In that article I quoted Dr. Sarah Janssen, a staff scientist at National Resources Defense Council, “more than 70% of cases appear to be rooted in lifestyle or environmental causes, rather than genetics.” The linkage between breast cancer and the environment is supported by the Breast Cancer Fund’s 2010 report, The Connection Between Breast Cancer and the Environment. (See footnote.)
On February 26, 2013 the Los Angeles Times reported that the rate of advanced breast cancer for U.S. women 25 to 39 years old nearly doubled from 1976 to 2009. Breast cancer is the leading cause of death for American women between the ages of 30 and 50. Also in 2013 Ted Schettler (the Science Director of the Science and Environmental Health Network) published the book The Ecology of Breast Cancer – the promise of prevention and the hope for healing. In that book Schettler wrote “recent developments have firmly established the importance of adopting a life-course perspective when looking for the origins of breast cancer, including those related to chemical exposures… Data from three scientific sources enable the identification of 216 chemicals associated with increases in mammary gland tumors in well-conducted animal studies.” You may question if agents that cause cancers in animals also cause cancers in humans. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) answered this question: “Every known human carcinogen that has been extensively tested is also carcinogenic in animals.”
In May 12, 2014 the Silent Spring Institute released its peer-reviewed report Scientists Identify Highest Priority Chemicals to Target for Breast Cancer Prevention. The report states that only 5-10 percent of breast cancers are due to high-risk inherited genes, and 80 percent of women diagnosed are the first in their family to get it. Dr. Julia Brody, executive director at Silent Spring said, “Every woman in America has been exposed to chemicals that may increase their risk of getting cancer. Unfortunately this link has largely been ignored…Studies that address toxic chemical exposure account for just a drop in the bucket of money spent on breast cancer.”
The Silent Spring study concluded that there is strong evidence that gasoline and chemicals formed by combustion are among the largest sources of mammary carcinogens in the environment. It identified 102 high-priority chemicals that are linked to breast cancer and to which women are commonly exposed, and it recommended steps that women can take to reduce their exposure to such chemicals.
- Lessen exposure to exhaust from gas and diesel engines. Use electric rather than gas powered lawn mowers.
- Limit consumption of charred food, e.g., from grilling.
- Don’t buy furniture with polyurethane foam; look for furniture with a tag stating that it contains no flame retardants.
- Avoid stain-resistant rugs, furniture and fabrics.
- Find a dry-cleaner that does not use PERC or other solvents.
- Purchase a charcoal drinking water filter.
- Reduce exposure to chemicals in the home by removing shoes at the door, using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter, and installing a HEPA-quality filter on the furnace.
The message for women is clear: Most cases of breast cancer can be prevented by minimizing exposure to identified chemicals in the environment.
Footnote. For an overview of the connection see www.breastcancerfund.org/clear-science. This portion of the website contains sections on Chemical and Radiation Links to Breast Cancer, Pregnancy and Childhood Exposures, and more.