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Chemical Exposure May Increase Risk of Breast Cancer

08.11.11 Chemical Exposure May Increase Risk of Breast Cancer

breast cancer and chemical exposure

"Scientists warn that chemicals may be altering breast development."  This is the headline of a recent article published by Environmental Health News (EHN) which suggests that exposure to environmental toxins early in life may play a significant role in altering breast tissue and ultimately lead to an increased risk of breast cancer later in life.

The rise in breast cancer amongst women under age 50 is deeply concerning.  According to the American Cancer Society, a woman's chance of developing invasive breast cancer during the course of her lifetime is roughly 1 in 8.  Nearly 40,000 women will lose their battle with breast cancer in 2011 alone.  These statistics are heartbreaking. 

Could exposure to hormone disrupting chemicals - even as early as in the womb - be contributing to breast health concerns?  According to the article, scientists have only recently begun to consider this relationship between chemical exposure and breast health.

Just this past June, reports published based on the findings of over 60 scientists who convened for the Mammary Gland Evaluation and Risk Assessment Workshop urge the federal government to add new testing to identify industrial chemicals and pesticides that may disrupt breast development.  Mammary glands, in particular, are very sensitive to hormone disrupting chemicals, which means that even low levels of exposure may be enough to cause adverse effects.

While human testing has not been conducted, scientists point out that the breasts of rodents develop in much the same manner as human breasts.  These rodent studies have shown that early exposure can lead to changes in mammary gland development, impaired lactation and an increased risk of developing breast cancer.  Also of note, according to EHN, "pregnant women who took an anti-miscarriage drug called DES, a potent synthetic estrogen, in the 1940s through 1960s had a high rate of breast cancer, as did their daughters." 

Traditional animal testing - as required by the federal government - has linked over 200 chemicals to breast cancer, but this testing is very basic as it only looks for tumors and not for changes in overall breast development. 

Breast cancer is the leading form of cancer in women.  These reports are an important step in pushing the federal government to begin assessing and identifying chemicals which may interfere with mammary gland development and contribute to cancer.

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