Monday, October 10, 2016

The New Breast Cancer Prevention Routine: How Chemicals and Timing Play a Role and How You Can Help Your Own Children Decrease Their Risk: Phthalates

Phthalates have many uses - among them helping fragrance
"stick to" a product, including perfume.

Part 1 of 4:  Phthalates

When we talk about breast cancer, prevention is key.  

Do as many things as you can do to decrease your risk of getting cancer will always be a better game plan than dealing with it once you already have it, obviously.   

Today, many well known organizations and breast cancer specialist agree that avoiding certain environmental chemicals should and need to be taken seriously as part of what any woman does to prevent breast cancer.   ( Four authoritative panels have already  pointed to further study of environmental chemicals as a promising direction for prevention: Cogliano et al. 2011; IBCERCC 2013; Institute of Medicine (IOM) 2011;  and the President’s Cancer Panel 2010).

The timing of the exposure to endocrine disputing chemicals also has a lot to do with how big an impact these chemicals can  have on a person.  There are periods of development called " windows of susceptibility"  where the breast is especially sensitive to environmental exposures.   These are:
  • during fetal development (when the organ is formed)
  • during puberty 
  • during pregnancy ( both during pregnancy and after lactation, when the breast tissue remodels)
During these periods,  an environment is created in which the mammary gland is sensitive to environmental factors that can lead to cancer.  Sometimes the impact of a chemical is seen at birth,  but for chemicals linked to breast cancer, often times  it remains hidden until years even decades later (ie.  when breast cancer is diagnosed).

Thus, a key way to protect yourself and daughters (and sons since breast cancer affects men too) comes down to decreasing their exposure to estrogen mimicking chemicals from the moment of conception and throughout puberty (early childhood - puberty is ideal) as well as during a woman's pregnancy. 

This week we are talking about the 4 common and potentially harmful estrogen mimicking chemicals that have links to breast cancer.  Today we will focus on the first one:  


USES:  Used to make plastics more flexible and resilient.  Also used to bind fragrance to products

OF CONCERN:  A 2012 study found that certain breast cancer cells exposed to phthalates increased proliferation, migration, invasion and tumor formation.  Another study “show for the first time that exposure to diethyl phthalate, the parent compound of MEP, may be associated with increased risk of BC (this specific phthalate has also been linked directly to obesity in children, with obese children showing greater exposure to phthalates than non obese children - obesity is another accepted risk factor for breast cancer).  Overall, studies seem to be showing that some phthalates do indeed lead to a significant increase in breast cancer risk, while other phthalates do not.  

WHERE: There are many types of phthalates, and not all of them have shown
links to increasing the risk of breast cancer.   DEP, one of the phthalates with strongest links to breast cancer, is mostly  used in fragrance in perfumes, cosmetics, personal care products, and nail polishes, toiletries, detergents and insecticides, and as a plasticiser in plastic tools, automotive parts, toothbrushes, food packaging, medical tubing. On occasion, it is also used in children’s toys.  Most cosmetics and perfumes do not disclose the specific type of phthalate they use (or any specific ingredient) due to "trade secrets", so telling you which specific products use this specific phthalate is pretty impossible.

Vapors and dust emitted from building materials, furniture and household fragrances are all potential indoor sources of phthalate exposures. Phthalates, including DEP,  have been found in house dust. 

Phthalates can and do also cross the placenta and are also found in breast milk.

In general it is not a bad idea to decrease your exposure to all phthalates, not just those linked to breast cancer, since they are all endocrine disruptors.  But special efforts should be used when a woman is pregnant and with young children and children going through puberty.

  • 1. Look for products that are labeled as  “phthalate free”
  • 2. Avoid artificial air fresheners and use perfume sparingly or not at all
  • 3. Avoid fabric softeners
  • 4. If it smells like plastic throw it out. If you can’t, let it air out.
  • 5. If it smells floral or fruity read the label.  If you cant pronounce the ingredients (if they are not organic essential oils) don’t use it. This goes for perfume, hand cream, as well as common toys for little girls and even art supplies that smell artificial “fruity”
  • 6. Keep dust to a minimum.  Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter
  • 7.  Consider switching to safer, non-toxic beauty products (nail polishes, makeup etc) .   Among the brands we trust and like:  Beautycounter, RMS beauty, Tata Harper.   

Check back tomorrow when we tackle the second chemical linked to breast cancer ....

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