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Make Breast Cancer Awareness Month Breast Cancer Prevention Month

In 1985, Imperial Chemical Industries and the American Cancer Society declared October “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” as part of a campaign to promote mammograms for the early detection of breast cancer. Unfortunately, most of us are all too aware of breast cancer. Detection and treatment of cancers do not solve the problem. We need prevention, not just awareness.

What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, causing the second most cancer-related deaths in the United States. Genetic factors only play a minor role in breast cancer incidences, while exposure to external environmental factors (i.e., chemical exposure) may play a more notable role. For breast cancer, one and ten women will receive a diagnosis, and genetics can only account for five to ten percent of cases. Therefore, it is essential to understand how external stimuli—like environmental pollution from pesticides—can drive breast cancer development. 

  • Most types of breast cancers are hormonally responsive and thus dependent on the synthesis of either estrogen or progesterone. Hormones generated by the endocrine system—and the synthetic chemicals that mimic them—greatly influence breast cancer incidents among humans. Several studies and reports, including U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data, identify hundreds of chemicals as influential factors associated with breast cancer risk.

Chemicals Implicated?

Endocrine Disruptors

  • DDT (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane): A woman’s first exposure to p,p’-DDT was associated with the timing of her breast cancer diagnosis. A doubling of DDT was associated with an almost three-fold increased risk of postmenopausal breast cancer (at age 50-54) for women first exposed after infancy. Women at increased risk for premenopausal breast cancer (before age 50) were first exposed to DDT in utero and infancy through puberty, but not after the age of 14; the highest risk was associated with first exposure before age 3. DDT exposure during childhood and puberty (ages 3-13) was a risk factor for both early (before age 50) and later breast cancer (age 50-54). Women who were first exposed after age 14 only had an increased risk of breast cancer after menopause (age 50-54).
  • Organophosphates (OPs): EPA and World Health Organization (WHO) consider over 40 OPs that are moderately or highly hazardous to human health. EPA classifies some commonly used OPs like malathion, a popular mosquito control, and tetrachlorvinphos, a common flea and tick killer in pet collars and shampoos, as probable carcinogens.
  • Glyphosate: Glyphosate exposure has adverse multi-generational effects causing negligible observable effects on pregnant rodents but severe effects on the two subsequent generations. These impacts include reproductive (prostate and ovarian) and kidney diseases, obesity, and birth anomalies. The chemical had the potential to induce breast cancer when combined with other risk factors. 
  • Neonicotinoids: environmental concentrations of the neonicotinoid insecticides thiacloprid and imidacloprid increase the expression of a gene linked to hormone-dependent breast cancer. The pathway through which neonicotinoids stimulate excess estrogen production is known to occur during the development of progressive hormone-dependent breast cancer.
  • Dioxins: Chemical byproducts made during the pesticide manufacturing process, such as dioxin, have multi-generational consequences on reproductive health. 

Most Impacted by Chemically-Induced Breast Cancer

Disproportionate risks among women and children:

    • Many studies have long demonstrated that childhood and in-utero exposure to DDT increase the risk of developing breast cancer later in life.
    • Many current-use pesticides and chemical contaminants play a role in similar disease prognoses, including mammary tumor formation. Recent research from the Silent Spring Institute links 28 different EPA-registered pesticides with the development of mammary gland tumors in animal studies. Many of these said chemicals are endocrine disruptors, and thus have implications for breast cancer risk.
    • Household cleaners, most of which are pesticides, contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals that increase breast cancer risk. Furthermore, long-term exposure to organophosphate (OP) pesticides increases adverse health and cancer risks, specifically among women.

Sex-Specific Risks

Researchers suggest that the same endocrine-disrupting properties that induce sex-specific effects also play a role in promoting hormonal-related cancer development like breast and prostate.

  • Women: OPs exhibit endocrine-disrupting properties that may alter estrogen or testosterone activity and receptors, resulting in differences in the clearance rate and toxicity of OPs. A 2020 study reveals that exposure to acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitors like OPs can cause sex-specific differences in depression symptoms among adolescent girls through endocrine disruption. Furthermore, this study is the first to demonstrate that, among the general population, OP exposure causes an increased risk of total cancer for female non-smokers, breast cancer for female smokers, and prostate cancer for male smokers from OP exposure. 
  • Men: A study of male breast cancer (MBC) in Scotland reports an alarming, increasing trend of this rare disease – especially in agricultural areas. While only accounting for 1% of diagnosed breast cancer, MBC forms in the breast tissue of men and is often fatal because of delayed diagnosis and lack of research on male-specific treatment. 

Generational impacts

  • Inheritance of health issues spanning generations relating to hereditary influence is a familiar phenomenon. However, exposure to pesticides poses just as much of a multi-generational health risk as hereditary illnesses. A plethora of research links pesticide exposure to endocrine disruption with epigenetic (non-genetic influence on gene expression) effects.

Race and Socioeconomic Status

    • Breast cancer outcomes differ significantly among women of various races/ethnicities, with African American women being 40 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than women of any other race.

The Organic Solution!

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide. Hence, it is essential to understand the effects pesticides may have on the health of current and future generations. Understanding the underlying mechanisms that cause cancer is a critically important aspect of safeguarding public health and addressing cost burdens for communities.

Beyond Pesticides believes that we must mitigate the multi-generational impacts pesticides pose on human and animal health. Adopting regenerative-organic practices and using least-toxic pest control can reduce harmful exposure to pesticides. Solutions like buyinggrowing, and supporting organic can help eliminate the extensive use of pesticides in the environment.

Resources

Beyond Pesticides’ Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database (PIDD), Daily News Blog, and Gateway on Pesticide Hazards and Safe Pest Management are vital resources for additional scientific literature that documents elevated cancer rates and other chronic diseases and illnesses among people exposed to pesticides.