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Daily News Archive
From September 29, 2006                                                                                                        

Canadian Study Finds Link Between Farming and Breast Cancer
(Beyond Pesticides, September 29, 2006) Scientists studying women in Windsor-Essex County, Ontario, have found that women with breast cancer are more likely than those without to have been employed in agriculture. The study implicates pesticides, coinciding with a growing body of evidence that pesticides are partially responsible for increased breast cancer rates.

Additionally, the study found that the association between occupational exposure and breast cancer remains high when the same women went on to careers in health care and auto-related industries. This suggests “an interactive effect between occupational farming exposures and subsequent exposures in other occupational environments.”

Investigator James Brophy, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, summarizes the findings to the Toronto Star, "The study found that women with breast cancer had a significantly elevated risk if they ever had worked in agriculture compared with women who had not worked on farms."

"The interesting thing for us was that women start farming as children, since virtually all children living on farms work on them. They start picking tomatoes, hoeing or de-tasselling corn and so on."

"There is a lot of concern about young women being exposed to pesticides and other chemicals for a number of reasons," Dr. Brophy says.

"The reason for concern is that a younger person is at their most biologically active. Secondly, breast tissue, until the time of the first pregnancy, is what they call undifferentiated, and biologically, that means the breast tissue doesn't really know its function until the first pregnancy.

"Those cells are particularly susceptible to carcinogens," Dr. Brophy says.

The study further reinforces the link between pesticides and breast cancer. Pesticides like dieldrin, DDT, heptachlor, and triazines have either been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer or are linked to the disease. (See State of the Evidence 2006: What Is the Connection Between the Environment and Breast Cancer?)

The link between pesticides and cancer has long been a concern. While agriculture has traditionally been tied to pesticide-related illnesses, 19 of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides and 24 of 48 commonly used school pesticides are probable or possible carcinogens. Additionally, many pesticides are endocrine disruptors, which can interfere with hormone function and can contribute to breast cancer and other health effects.

TAKE ACTION: Reduce pesticides in your environment by asking your employer to use least-toxic methods of pest control and by using alternatives to control unwanted species at home.