Women’s health advocates for years have been questioning the link between breast cancer and the environment, including pollutants, chemicals and toxins — as approximately 70 percent of women who develop breast cancer have no known family history or genetic risk.

Now the Silent Spring Institute, a nonprofit research organization in Newtown, Mass. that studies the connections between the environment and women’s health, has created a database that summarizes hundreds of studies on possible environmental causes of breast cancer.

Available online at http://sciencereview.silentspring.org, the database includes reviews of approximately 450 articles reporting on human breast cancer studies and information on 216 chemicals identified as mammary carcinogens in animal studies.

Four articles about the findings were published online in the journal Cancer (text and summaries are available here). These reports were compiled by researchers from
the Silent Spring Institute; Harvard’s Medical School and School of
Public Health in Boston; the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo,
N.Y.; and USC’s Keck School of Medicine. Funding was provided by the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation.

“It represents an enormous step for an influential organization like Komen to take this on,” Julia Brody, the epidemiologist and environmental researcher who led the project for the Silent Spring Institute, told the Dallas Morning News. “Over the years, the primary focus in cancer research has been on diagnosis and treatment. But there’s been relatively little focus on prevention.”

The Silent Spring Institute also looked at lifestyle influences on breast cancer, including diet and physical activity.

The key findings of the project, as reported by the Dallas Morning News, include:

• Lifelong physical activity reduces the risk of breast cancer.

• Reducing alcohol consumption lowers risk.

• Avoiding being overweight after menopause lowers risk.

• Of 216 chemicals that cause breast tumors in animals, 73 have been present in consumer products or as contaminants in food, 35 are air pollutants, and 25 have been associated with occupation exposures. Twenty-nine of the chemicals are produced in amounts exceeding 1 million pounds per year.

• Evidence is mounting that some of those chemicals are causing breast cancer in women, although there has not been much human research to test such links.

More coverage is available at the Los Angeles Times.

Plus: For more information about breast cancer and environmental causes, Our Bodies Ourselves points to related articles along with links to sites about breast cancer and environmental and occupational health. The Breast Cancer Fund also focuses on environmental connections to breast cancer.


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  • Jeannette May 18, 2007 at 1:24 pm

    Once again, this is about corporate ownership of America — valuing profit over people. Of course, it’s even easier when it’s women.
    Regardless of whether there is definitive proof that these environmental factors having an effect, shouldn’t the burden of proof be on the producers of this stuff — rather than on the victims? Why do we have to have this stuff in our atmosphere, our workplaces, etc — as if we are conducting a collective and very dangerous scientific experiment on ourselves? This drives me crazy.