A new report - two years in the making -was finally released this week on the possible causes of breast cancer. For those looking for a link between the disease and environmental toxins, the report may come as a disappointment, as researchers were not able to find many clear links between chemical exposure from things like air pollution, cleaning products, and drinking water to the development of breast cancer.
The major findings of the report, released by the Institute of Medicine - an independent arm of the National Academy of the Sciences - are actually pretty boring, and nothing that we didn't already know. The best ways to avoid breast cancer? Avoid unnecessary medical radiation, steer clear of hormone treatments for menopause that combine estrogen and progestin, minimize alcohol intake, and limit weight gain. The sponsor of the 364 page report was the breast cancer advocacy group, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which requested the report and spent $1 million on it.
The fact that the report did not find any major links between breast cancer and environmental toxins was a disappointment to some health advocates. But according to the panel, it can be difficult to precisely define exposures that occured in the past or over and long and indefinite periods of time. And the complex chemical cocktail that many of us are exposed to on a daily basis makes it almost impossible to determine the effects of each chemical individually on each study subject.
The panel found “possible associations” between breast cancer and secondhand smoke, nighttime shift work and exposures to the chemicals benzene, ethylene oxide and 1,3-butadiene, which are found in some workplaces, car exhaust, gasoline fumes and tobacco smoke. But again, the links were vague and unclear.
Researchers hope more studies can be conducted on environmental exposures at different stages of life, because different toxins may affect breast tisue differently at various stages of a woman's development. For instance, exposure to radiation as a child may increase breast cancer risk more than the same radiation exposure as an adult.
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