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Report Reviews Links between Breast Cancer and Environmental Exposures

(Beyond Pesticides, October 5, 2010) A new report by the Breast Cancer Fund, a national organization working to eliminate the environmental causes of breast cancer, presents a summary of the scientific data on the environmental causes of the disease. The report catalogs the growing evidence linking breast cancer to, among other factors: synthetic hormones in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and meat; pesticides in food; solvents in household cleaning products; BPA in food containers; flame retardants in furniture; and radiation from medical treatments. The report also highlights impacts on the most vulnerable populations (including infants, pregnant women, African-American women and workers), and outlines the policy initiatives required to develop a national breast cancer prevention plan.

The report, State of the Evidence: The Connection Between Breast Cancer and the Environment, is the sixth edition published by the Breast Cancer Fund. “With each new edition of the report, the growing scientific evidence compels us to act to prevent breast cancer,” said Jeanne Rizzo, RN, president of the Breast Cancer Fund. “This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, our message is clear: we must move beyond awareness to prevention.”

The report states that a woman’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is 1 in 8—representing a dramatic increase since the 1930s, when the first reliable cancer incidence data were established. Between 1973 and 1998 alone, breast cancer incidence rates in the United States increased by more than 40 percent. Strikingly, the increasing incidence of breast cancer since the 1930s parallels the proliferation of synthetic chemicals. Today, approximately 85,000 synthetic chemicals are registered for use in the United States, more than 90 percent of which have never been tested for their effects on human health.

The report’s lead author, Janet Gray, PhD, professor at Vassar College, said that widely understood risk factors for breast cancer such as primary genetic mutations, reproductive history and lifestyle factors do not address a considerable portion of the risk for the disease. “A substantial body of scientific evidence indicates that exposures to common chemicals and radiation also contribute to the unacceptably high incidence of breast cancer,” Dr. Gray said. “This report focuses on these environmental issues.”

The report dedicates several chapters to pesticides, focusing on various studies linking triazine herbicides (atrazine, simazine), organochlorines (aldrin, dieldrin, DDT, heptachlor) and the phenoxy herbicide 2,4-D, as well as the link between hormones used in meat production to breast cancer. The report reviews both epidemiologic and animal studies and routes of exposure, with an emphasis on exposure to farmworkers and other vulnerable populations. Toxic synthetic pesticides and hormones are prohibited in organic agriculture.

This report comes just months after the President’s Cancer Panel’s report, Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now, finds that the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated. The report levels a hefty critique of failed regulation, undue industry influence, and inadequate research and funding. It also finds that the government has been locked in a cancer-fighting paradigm that has failed to look at the complexity of cancer causation and, in so doing, has missed the opportunity to create a national campaign for cancer prevention.

In addition to a comprehensive summary of the science and policy recommendations, the report also presents advice on what individuals can do to reduce their risk. Regarding pesticides, the report stops short of recommending an overhaul of federal pesticide law to be precautionary and focus more on alternatives assessment, but does recommend several improvements to our current regulatory system:

• EPA should follow the EU’s lead and ban the use of atrazine in the United States.

• The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) should be revised so that pesticides cannot enter the market with a conditional registration. Inert ingredients along with active ingredients should be included in toxicity testing. Pesticide registration procedures need to be more stringent, and the EPA should establish and enforce rigorous testing requirements.

• Strengthened premarket health and safety testing and regulation of pesticides should be included in comprehensive chemical policy reform.

• The Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) needs to be more vigilantly implemented and to move beyond policy that addresses one pesticide or agent at a time, to consider multiple concurrent pesticide exposures.

• More research is needed on the cumulative exposures of agricultural workers and their families to gain a greater understanding of the role of pesticides in the development of breast cancer and other diseases.

• Manufacturers should be provided with incentives to adopt safer pesticide practices and develop product alternatives.

“At a time when virtually every American has been touched by breast cancer,” said Ms. Rizzo, “we need individual, corporate and government commitment to eliminating the environmental causes of breast cancer. Action now means fewer of our children and grandchildren will face the devastating diagnosis of breast cancer. We simply can’t afford not to act.”

For information on the link between pesticide exposure and diseases, including breast cancer and more, see Beyond Pesticides’ Pesticide Induced Disease Database. For more information on breast cancer or to download State of the Evidence, visit the Breast Cancer Fund website.


2 Responses to “Report Reviews Links between Breast Cancer and Environmental Exposures”

  1. 1
    Mara Natrakul Says:

    Great article.. This is definitely need to know info for everyone and we have to get the word out more. I especially like the specific, targeted pesticide reform measures cited from the report. How do I get a copy of this report…. directly from the breast cancer research fund? Thanks!

  2. 2
    Beyond Pesticides Says:

    @Mara – There is a link to the report in the second paragraph. Otherwise, you can contact the Breast Cancer Research Fund. Glad you enjoyed the article!

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