Quick Survey: Breast Cancer Linked To Toxic Environment
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Breast Cancer Linked To Toxic Environment

By the most conservative estimates, 80 percent of all cancers are related to environmental factors. This includes the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the heavy metals, industrial chemicals, pesticides, and radiation we are exposed to.

In fact, the National Research Council found no information at all on possible toxic effects of eighty percent of the 50,000 or so industrial chemicals used in the U.S. and Canada. There are also many unanswered questions about the remaining twenty percent.

Organochlorines like dioxin, PCP's, DDT and 10,000 other chemicals in the same family have been shown to disrupt the endocrine system and impair the reproductive abilities of animals. Organochlorines are highly persistent and toxic chemicals produced by industries that make PVC plastics, solvents, pesticides, refrigerants, and bleached white paper. They concentrate in the fatty tissues of animals and the humans who eat them. More than 177 organochlorines have been found in the tissues of the general population of Canada and the U.S.

Breast cancer has been linked with the use of pesticides, as well as exposure to radiation, and low level emissions from nuclear plants. Most studies have shown a connection between PCB and DDT exposure and breast cancer. One study that didn't show that link was a retrospective study on 240 nurses. However, the study is of limited value since it measured only a few chemicals in stored blood taken in 1989 or 1990. Larger well designed studies are now in progress.

Dr. Sandra Steingraber, author of Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer (Addison-Wesley, 1997) says there will never be absolute proof that chemicals cause cancer. Cancer has multiple causes, may take decades to manifest. Furthermore, large populations and control groups are needed to conduct reliable studies. Meanwhile, she believes that scientific evidence to date justifies action to eliminate major pollutants from our environment.

Co-author of The Breast Cancer Prevention Program , (MacMillan, 1997) and professor of occupational and environmental medicine at the University of Illinois, Dr. Samuel Epstein faults the U.S. National Cancer Institute for adopting a blame the victim mentality. He says the Institute concentrates too much on personal habits like dietary fat and too little on the avoidable carcinogens that accumulate in fat. Preventive research is being neglected, charges Epstein, in favour of a futile and lucrative quest for cures.

American Greenpeace researcher Joe Thornton says that "stopping organochlorine pollution of the environment and our bodies should be a priority of breast cancer prevention strategies." Women should urgently support Greenpeace and other groups to phase out the industrial use of organochlorines in the pulp and paper industry and in the manufacture, use, and incineration of PVC products.

Prudent avoidance of exposure seems the best policy. Women should refuse to use bleached paper products, including sanitary napkins and tampons (unbleached sanitary products are available in health food stores). Avoid the use of all chemicals and pesticides for home, lawn and garden. Get your family to take off their shoes at the door to reduce the tracking of lead and other contaminants into the house. Use alternatives to PVC building materials and PVC children's products which are listed on the Greenpeace website.

The main source of exposure to dioxin and other chemicals is in the fat of meat and dairy. Thus it's best to reduce or eliminate animal fat in your diet and concentrate on whole grains, beans, fresh vegetables and fruits.

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