A new survey of scientific evidence conducted by researchers working with the Breast Cancer Fund makes a persuasive case that the industrialized world's rising breast cancer rate may stem from exposure to radiation and chemicals in plastics, pesticides, cosmetics and other common household goods.
"Increasingly sophisticated and compelling data link radiation and various chemicals in our environment to the current high rates of breast cancer incidence," says the study, "State of the Evidence - The Connection Between Breast Cancer and the Environment," published in the February issue of the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health.
The bottom line, says Vassar College researcher Janet Gray, who led the survey team, is that "we should be concerned about the accumulated set of chemicals to which we are being exposed and to which our children are being exposed."
In a companion article, a team lead by Janet Nudelman, Director of Program and Policy at the Breast Cancer Fund, recommends a set of policy initiatives, among them, an overhaul and strengthening of federal laws that aim to limit human exposure to toxic industrial chemicals and pesticides.
The report targeted so-called "endocrine-disrupting" chemicals that cause changes in the body's hormones. The Breast Cancer Fund is calling for immediate comprehensive bans on two endocrine-disrupting chemicals that are essential building blocks of a host of plastic products:
- Bisphenol A (BPA), a synthetic estrogen and building block of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resin, associated with damage to the brain, neurological system and reproductive system of lab animals.
- Phthalates, used as solvents and as "plasticizers" to make plastics like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) more flexible and resilient. Phthalates have been shown to cause abnormalities in male reproductive systems.
A federal ban on phthalates in toys, teethers, bibs and other children's products takes effect tomorrow (February 10, 2009). Similarly, some lawmakers favor banning BPA from children's products or food contact items.
But Nudelman says those measures are an important first step but don't go far enough, pointing out that both chemicals are in a vast variety of products that can leach toxins into people and the environment. "BPA and phthalates are so powerful, they can actually cross the placenta and impact the fetus in development and predispose the fetus to cancer and other diseases," she says. "If they can cross the placenta and affect fetal development, they have no business being in commerce, period."
"The picture of breast cancer causation that emerges is complex," said Breast Cancer Fund president Jeanne Rizzo. "While there is no single smoking gun, the trends that emerge lead us to stop asking IF there is a link between breast cancer and synthetic chemicals, and to instead ask how to act to reduce our exposure, given the strong and compelling evidence we now have."