Tuesday, May 13, 2014

17 Everyday Chemicals Linked to Breast Cancer and How To Avoid Them

Breast Cancer.  Just about everyone I know knows someone who has been affected by breast cancer; in fact it is leading cause of death in women from their late 30s to their early 50s.  Not only are more than 200,000 women diagnosed in the US each year, but it is being diagnosed in younger and younger women.  If you are a woman or have daughters, breast cancer prevention should be a priority.

Most doctors will agree that an increase in such little time cannot be due solely to genetic factors (and breast cancer cases linked to the ‘breast cancer gene” account for only 5-10% of all cases)... so what is causing breast cancer?

A new study by the Silent Spring Institute and the Harvard School of Public Health has an answer.  The study has identified and linked 17 groups of chemicals, commonly found in our environment that they say are a cause for concern.  Although 17 chemicals are highlighted, the study actually identified 102 high-priority chemicals linked to breast cancer that should be avoided for breast cancer prevention (including pesticides found in conventional fruits and vegetables and nitrosamines from some smoked meats).

Breast cancer risk shows the strongest associations with exposure to these chemicals during early life, when breast tissue is less differentiated- another reason to take special care if you are pregnant or have young children.


Some of the more common chemicals identified are: 

1,3-Butadiene exposure in the general population is primarily via inhalation of cigarette smoke, automobile exhaust, and gasoline fumes.  Exposure, thus, is highest for the millions who live in big cities with traffic and pollution, those who smoke or are exposed to second hand smoke, and even when we fill our tank up with gasoline.

Major sources of acrylamide exposure include diet (especially starchy foods, such as french fries, cooked at high temperatures) and tobacco smoke.  Lower exposer can come from polyacrylamide gels used in many consumer products like baby diapers.

Aromatic amines 
These are a group of chemicals are found in pesticides and dyes flame retardants (found in just about all upholstered furniture and mattresses manufactured before January 1, 2014 in addition to electronic equipment and even some children’s pajamas), stain-resistant textiles ( think scotch guard)

The highest exposures to benzene are from gasoline (riding in a car, pumping gasoline, storing gasoline in a basement or attached garage) and tobacco smoke, although automobile exhaust and other forms of urban and industrial air pollution are also important exposure sources.

Halogenated organic solvents
These chemicals have been widely used in dry cleaning, hair spray propellant, soil fumigants, food processing, gasoline additives, and paint and spot removers.

Ethylene and propylene oxide 
EtO is a gas used to sterilize medical equipment, food and spices, clothing, and musical
instruments (NTP 2011). It has also been detected in tobacco smoke and auto exhaust

Flame retardants and metabolites
Various different  flame retardants were identified.  Some of which are found in most upholstered furniture and mattresses manufactured before January 1, 2014 in addition to electronic equipment and even some children’s pajamas.

Heterocyclic amines 
Chemicals found in both meat cooked at high temperatures (charred)  and tobacco smoke.

Endogenous and pharmaceutical hormones and other endocrine disrupting chemicals 
These include estrogens, progesterone, and DES, along with other synthetic hormones; endocrine disrupting chemicals that mimic these hormones. These are found in many a beauty product, fragrance, plastics, cleaning product, antibacterial products etc

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) 

PFOA and other perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) are used in non-stick and stain-resistant coatings on rugs, furniture, clothes and cookware, as well as in fire-fighting applications, cosmetics, lubricants, paints, and adhesives. These are widely found in US blood samples

To read about the rest of the chemicals mentioned in the top 17 please click on the study


These results should be used as a guide for breast cancer prevention, in addition to your monthly self exam and yearly ultrasound or mammogram.  

If you are pregnant, remember that every chemical you are exposed to can have serious effects on your developing fetus.  Early life exposure has the highest probability of causing damage later in life (sometimes decades later) so you should take precautions to avoid or reduce your exposure to these chemicals.  The same should be done with young children.

Luckily some of the chemicals are easy to avoid.  The study's authors recommend these 7 everyday tips to reduce your exposure to likely breast carcinogens.   

  1. Reduce your exposure to fumes from gasoline and to exhaust from diesel or other fuel
    Source: Silent Spring Institute
    combustion. That means: if you are pregnant or with a young baby, try to send someone else to fill the gas tank. Don’t idle your car, and if possible, use electric, not gas-powered, lawnmowers, leaf blowers and weed whackers. 
  2.  Use a fan when you cook, and avoid eating burned or charred food. Avoid using non-stick ‘Teflon’ pans (especially at high heat and especially if they are chipping )
  3. Don’t buy furniture with polyurethane foam — or ask for foam not treated with flame retardants. Thanks to a new law in California put into effect as of January 2014, furniture without flame retardants should be widely available this summer nationwide. For more information read our post Furniture Without Flame Retardants: Coming Soon to a Store Near You!
  4. Avoid stain-resistant rugs, furniture and fabrics.
  5. Find a dry cleaner who doesn’t use solvents; ask for “wet cleaning.”  When trying an organic cleaner specifically ask if they use PERC; you want to avoid this chemical.
  6. Purify your drinking water with a solid carbon-block filter.
  7.  Keep your house clean to avoid bringing in outside chemicals. Remove your shoes at the door, vacuum with a HEPA filter, and clean with wet rags and mops.

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