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The Environment and Breast Cancer

The Precautionary Principle

The "precautionary principle," states that "when an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not yet fully established scientifically.” Instead of the public having to show that they have been harmed, (a proof that is virtually impossible because of the lack of scientific information,) a proponent has to prove that the activity, process, or chemical exposure is harmless.

Consumers have the right to know what they are exposed to on a daily basis. Some of these chemicals are known carcinogens, some are suspected carcinogens and we do not know if the remainder pose a threat to human health. However we feel that the public should have the choice.

Some Facts...

  • The risk for breast cancer has nearly tripled since 1940.  Now, one in seven women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.
  • White women are most likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, black women are more likely to die from it.
  • Less than 10% of breast cancers are hereditary.
  • 60% of people with breast cancer do not have any of the “known” personal risk factors. Known risk factors, like late menopause, having children late in life, and family history are present in only 40% of breast cancer cases.
  • Federal breast cancer research has increased dramatically in the last ten years, but less than 3% of those funds have gone into investigating the environmental links to breast cancer.
  • We are exposed to at least 125 different chemicals on a daily basis and your breasts may contain up to 200 toxic chemicals. Some of these chemicals are known carcinogens, or can harm the reproductive system.

A list of products that do not contain phthalates

Environmental Links to Breast Cancer and Other Reproductive Health Problems

The following slide show was developed by Devra Lee Davis, Ph.D., MPH, Director of the Health, Environment and Development Program at the World Resources Institute, Washington, DC.

Environmental Links to Breast Cancer click here
 Breast cancer is a disease of tremendous significance to women. It is the most common cancer among women in developed countries, and its incidence is rapidly increasing in the developing world. Known risk factors for the disease, such as family history and age at menstruation, explain fewer than one in three cases. While screening and diagnosis has improved in many regions, it cannot completely account for the rate increases. Much research funding has been devoted to treatment of breast cancer rather than its prevention. To date, potential environmental causes of breast cancer have received little attention, even though there is increasing evidence that such links exist.

The following PDF explain the evidence that links environmental exposures with the development of breast cancer. Recent research has focused on the role of estrogenic compounds in the etiology of breast cancer. Most of the known risk factors for breast cancer can be linked to total lifetime exposure to bioavailable estrogens. In fact, 40% of all cancers in women are thought to be hormonally mediated.

How would synthetic estrogens play a part? Scientists believe that these compounds (some pesticides, plastics, fuels, natural plant substances to name a few) may modify or mimic natural estrogen, a key hormone in the endocrine system. Over time, accumulated exposures to xenoestrogens may result in abnormal cell activity. Certain xenoestrogens may boost production of "bad" estrogens, or increase aberrant cell growth, resulting in cancer. Others can bolster "good" estrogens that prevent cancer. These "good" estrogens can be found in soy plants and the "bad" ones in some agricultural chemicals and plastic products.

Xenoestrogens come from factories, not food. But they wind up in food because they get into the environment, where toxic organic pollutants like DDT can persist for more than 50 years. Even pesticides banned in the U.S. can wend their way back to our homes in some imported exotic fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Xenoestrogens can also be encountered in items of everyday use - gasoline, weed killers, even some plastics.

The slides, and the accompanying text, explore these issues in more detail. Link to the other web sites listed for more detailed information on environmental links to breast cancer and related topics.

Environmental Risks & Breast Cancer (also in Spanish)
Vassar College Vassar College has produced an interactive CD on breast cancer and the environment. Hazards and risks are a daily part of life. In our world, it is impossible to avoid all risks, and reassuringly, not every exposure to most risks will have a negative effect. Nevertheless, scientific studies have suggested that, over time, the combined exposures to a number of factors discussed in this project may account for a considerable portion of the current high rate of breast cancer. We argue that, when possible, it is worthwhile to look for less harmful alternatives. The information outlined in this project is not meant to discourage or scare you. Rather, we believe that all people have the right to make informed choices and to have the opportunity to learn about both the benefits and the risks of the activities in which they are engaged. We will provide you a free copy of the CD for personal use. Contact: Prof. Janet Gray, Vassar College, 124 Raymond Ave, Box 460,Poughkeepsie, NY 12604  
Information on Environmental Health and Cancer Prevention from the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. Devra Lee Davis, PhD, MPH-Director 
DEVRA DAVIS- Scientific answers about what we can do to prevent illness.Selected articles and publications on the links between cancer and the environment.
Dr. Sherman's primary interest is the prevention of illness through public education and patient awareness.
Radiation and Public Health Project- Articles on the links between radiation and cancer. Parents of Children with Cancer May Now Participate in a Landmark Scientific Study - Simply by Donating Their Child's Discarded Baby Tooth! The Radiation and Public Health Project’s (RPHP) Baby Teeth Study is the first US study to measure radioactivity in teeth since 1970. We are comparing average radiation levels in children with cancer to those of healthy children. Once sufficient data is collected, it will evaluate whether this radioactivity contributes to an increased risk of cancer. For more information about the project, please call Joseph Mangano at 718 857-9825 or email him at [email protected] - Cancer Research Center of America, Inc.
The mission of this non profit, 501(c)(3), medical research organization is to reduce the high incidence of breast cancer and its recurrence by conducting case-control epidemiological studies aimed at finding and verifying the major origins and sources of this disease. Support their breast cancer research with a heartfelt, tax-deductible donation.  
The Breast Cancer Research and Education Fund carries out community-based research that draws links between the physical environment and human health-- e.g. the links being made between breast cancer and the environment; the possibility of extending one's life by being part of a breast cancer support group, and the information being accumulated in the alternative/complementary treatment area.


This information is intended for educational purposes only, in order to help you make informed health choices. We are providing this information to advise you of the complete scientific overview that is currently available, although we may not necessarily endorse it. Breast Cancer Options 2002