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Half of All Breast Cancers are Tied to Pollution

Breast cancer rates in the United States have been on the rise since the 1940s. Today, one in seven women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime -- a rate triple the number in the 1960s.

What is behind this significant rising trend that has made breast cancer the most common cancer among U.S. women? Conventional medical literature states that age (over 65), family history and lifestyle factors (including not exercising, being obese and drinking a lot of alcohol) all affect the risk.

Bisphenol-A, a compound used to make plastic baby bottles, food storage containers, children's toys, soda cans and more may be causing breast cancer in women.

But, says Nancy Evans, health science consultant for the Breast Cancer Fund and principle author of a new report "State of the Evidence," the cause of a large number of breast cancer cases remain unexplained.

"You just can't blame it on lifestyle factors, like when you have children, or if you have children," Evans said. "Half the cases are not explained by genetics or the so-called 'known risk factors.' There's something else going on."

50 Percent of Breast Cancer Cases Not Caused by Genetics, Lifestyle

The report, produced by the two groups Breast Cancer Fund and Breast Cancer Action, found that lifestyle factors and genetics were not involved in half of the breast cancer diagnoses in 2005. And with 211, 240 women diagnosed last year, this represents a hefty number -- and a grossly overlooked factor (or several of them).

After analyzing more than 350 studies on breast cancer, the researchers determined that only one in 10 breast cancer cases are due to genetics. The majority of cases arise, they say, from a combination of factors, including environmental pollution and exposure to low-dose radiation.

Why Plastics May Actually be Dangerous

Low-dose exposure to chemicals such as bisphenol-A (BPA) -- especially as a child -- may be having a profound effect on women.

Read the Entire "State of the Evidence 2006" Report Here.

Bisphenol-A is widely used in plastic containers, tin can and soda-can linings, baby bottles, children's toys and more. Close to 6 billion pounds are produced every year. However, studies find that it is far from an inert compound -- instead, it appears to be capable of altering cells.

One study, published in the journal Endocrinology, for instance, found that pregnant mice exposed to levels of the compound similar to what a human would typically be exposed to had alterations to the development of their mammary glands.

The mammary glands of their female offspring grew in a way that made them more susceptible to breast cancer development, and also responded unusually to estrogen, which promotes breast cancer in humans.

Further, due to the bisphenol-A exposure, the mice were less able to get rid of damaged cells that could be cancerous than mice that were not exposed.

"This is of tremendous concern because this is clearly a study that is relevant to human exposure levels to this chemical," said Professor Frederick vom Saal, of the University of Missouri-Columbia.

What does industry have to say of these findings? "When you look at this body of evidence in total, we didn't find any evidence that there is a marked, repeatable-across-laboratories effect that has any clear scientific standing," said Lorenz Romberg, a consultant and former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientist (who has testified before the government for the chemical industry).

Early Mammograms May Also Warrant Concern

The American Cancer Society recommends that women over the age of 40 get mammograms, despite the fact that research suggests they're not effective until age 50.

Now new research from the National Academy of Sciences suggests that even the lowest possible doses of radiation increase cancer risk.

"We have to have a replacement for mammography. It's so aggressively promoted, especially for young women," Evans said. "I'm not saying they should or shouldn't [have a mammogram]. They need to be aware of the risk. An additional 10 years of radiation is not insignificant."

The state of California has agreed with a 1,200-page report that found exposure to secondhand smoke causes breast cancer in younger women.

It appears that a combination of factors is likely to blame for rising breast cancer rates. As of today, no one knows what happens when a person is exposed to low doses of chemicals, combined with low doses of radiation and other pollution.

Secondhand Smoke Officially a "Toxic Air Contaminant" in California

California regulators have recently ruled that secondhand smoke causes breast cancer in younger women. The first-of-its-kind ruling could lead to tougher measures to fight against smoking in the state.

The 1,200-page report from scientists at the California Environmental Protection Agency was unanimously approved by the state's Air Resources Board. It found that women under 50 who were exposed to secondhand smoke had an increased risk of breast cancer compared to those not exposed. State law in California will now list secondhand smoke as a "toxic air contaminant."

"There should be an even stronger effort to eliminate secondhand smoke exposure, particularly for our young girls," says Laura Esserman, a surgeon and researcher at the University of California-San Francisco.

Aside from avoiding exposure to environmental toxins as much as possible, there are also dietary measures you can take to help prevent breast cancer -- including consuming plenty of these eight key nutrients.

Recommended Reading

Eight Key Nutrients to Help Prevent Breast Cancer -- and Where to Find Them

The Most Dangerous Toxin that Almost No One Knows About


USA Today January 26, 2006

The Argus January 25, 2006

Endocrinology. 2005 Sep;146(9):4138-47.

Scientists Link Plastic Food Containers With Breast Cancer

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