Pesticides Linked To Breast Cancer
Each year more than 39,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.K. It is estimated that one in nine will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. The disease is now the most common form of cancer in women worldwide and while the exact cause is unknown, risk factors include age, diet, the pill, HRT, obesity, and family history.
A toxicologist in Liege, Belgium believes there is another risk factor to consider. A study, conducted by Dr. Charles Caulier, found that women with breast cancer had higher pesticide residues in their bloodstream than healthy women. In fact, women diagnosed with breast cancer were five times more likely to have DDT residues and nine times more likely to have residues of HCB (hexachlorobenzine) in their blood than a control group.
DDT is an organochlorine which, when broken down, mimics the female hormone oestrogen. Originally developed to control insects and protect crops, DDT was banned in 1972. However, it is still used to eradicate mosquitos in developing countries. It can remain active in tissues for up to 50 years and small quantities are still absorbed from the food chain. HCB was used as a fungicide but banned in 1965. It is still found in the environment because of past usage and as a by-product of other chemicals. HCB is ranked by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the top ten percent of the most toxic chemicals and classed as a probable human carcinogen.
Both DDT and HCB are called "hormone disrupters" because they mimic the action of oestrogen in the body. Researchers suspect our exposure to increased levels of oestrogen or oestrogen-like compounds increases the risks of breast cancer. "Foreign" oestrogens (also called xenoestrogens) accumulate in fatty tissue and, as women have a higher proportion of body fat than men, they are particularly vulnerable to the 400 or so pesticides routinely used in conventional farming. Nobody knows what risks mixtures of such agents pose to the immune system.
Breast Cancer Found Higher In Affluent Neighborhoods
Is it possible that more affluent, better-educated women are at a greater risk in developing breast cancer? As reported in the Boston Herald (10/21/99), a study released by the Silent Spring Institute has suggested this may be true. The study, funded by the Massachusetts State Department of Public Health, was a follow-up to a 1997 study that found the city of Newton had a higher rate of breast cancer than the state average and that the highest rates were in the affluent sections of Waban, Newton Center and South Newton. By contrast, rates in the more blue-collar section of West Newton were much lower than the state average.
Overall, Newton had a 20 percent higher rate of breast cancer compared to the state as a whole between 1987 and 1992. More recent data shows Newton has a rate of 7 percent higher than the state average. The Waban section was 55 percent higher than the state average, Newton Center 46 percent higher and South Newton 36 percent higher. In contrast, the less affluent West Newton area had a rate 22 percent lower than the state average.
This phenomenon does not appear to be specific to Newton. The highest rates of breast cancer are generally in affluent communities including Marblehead, Andover, Brookline and Cape Cod, in addition to Newton. Those with the lowest rates included Lawrence and Chelsea.
The survey of 1,350 women found possible environmental risk factors, associated with higher income and education, to be responsible for 14 percent of the difference between the high and low incidence areas. The study found that 65 percent of women in the higher-income areas reported using lawn services, compared to just 36 percent in the lower-income areas. Thirty percent of those in the affluent areas reported high routine use of pesticides, compared to 23 percent in the low-incidence areas. The pesticide finding is considered particularly interesting because components of many pesticides contain endoctrine-disrupting compounds that mimic natural hormones. Increased lifetime exposure to the body's natural estrogen is linked to a higher breast cancer risk.
Info From HealthWorld Online (5/15/03) and The Choice Vol.XXVI, No. 1 2000.
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