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from the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: Is there any proof linking human breast cancer to exposure to chemicals in the environment? Or do researchers think most cases of breast cancers are genetically inherited?

— Bettine Carroll, New York, NY

A groundbreaking research study coordinated by the nonprofit Silent Spring Institute and recently published by the American Cancer Society found that synthetic chemicals have likely played a large role in the rising incidence of breast cancer throughout the world over the last half-century. The study identified 216 man-made chemicals—including those found in everyday products like pesticides, cosmetics, dyes, drugs and gasoline (and diesel exhaust)—that have been shown to cause breast cancer in animals. Researchers believe these substances, many of which “mimic” naturally occurring hormones once inside the body, are also to blame for the increasing prevalence of human breast cancer.

According to epidemiologist Devra Lee Davis of the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health and one of the lead researchers on the new study, the more hormones cycling through a woman’s body during her lifetime, the more likely she is to develop breast cancer. Synthetic chemicals that mimic hormones magnify the risk, as the body doesn’t know the difference between its own real hormones and other introduced chemicals. One in 10 women who develop breast cancer inherits a defective gene from their parents, Davis adds, meaning that in 90 percent of breast cancer cases studied, external nongenetic agents (e.g. synthetic chemicals) contributed to the development of the cancer.

Women can prevent cancer by buying and eating organic foods, avoiding pesticides and other synthetic chemicals whenever possible, and supporting government regulation and more research on synthetic chemicals and their effects.

 
 

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