Why are more women then ever being diagnosed with breast cancer?
Jane Brody, an internationally renowned epidemiologist, suspects the culprits are everyday pollutants found in everyday areas - drinking water, the air, detergents, pesticides, plastics and cosmetics.
"Most chemicals have not been studied for their effect on breast cancer, so there's a huge knowledge gap," Brody said in an interview yesterday.
The principal investigator of the 11-year, ongoing Cape Cod Breast Cancer and Environment Study of 2,100 women, Brody will be giving a lecture on the topic in Montreal tonight.
Her study, which found that Cape Cod women have a 20-per- cent higher rate of breast cancer than those living elsewhere in Massachusetts, is investigating whether chemicals that pollute air and water are also found in pesticides, detergents, plastics and cosmetics.
Evidence is mounting that certain chemicals are causing breast cancer in women, said Brody, executive director of the Silent Spring Institute. The institute is named in recognition of Rachel Carson's book that tied the use of pesticides to adverse effects on wildlife.
At the lecture, presented by Breast Cancer Action Montreal, Brody will give an overview of epidemiological and laboratory studies on pollution, hormone disruptors and cancer.
"We have some studies that create a coherent picture," she said. About 215 substances cause breast tumors in animals; many are found in consumer products.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, products of combustion present in air pollution, auto exhaust, and diesel fuel, are named as probable human carcinogens.
Michel AubÃƒ© and his team from UniversitÃƒ© Laval and the Institute national de santÃƒ© publique in Quebec, published a study in February showing a link between DDT and breast cancer. (Banned for many years, DDT is now being used to fight malaria).
"I'm going to be describing chemical suspects," Brody said. "We have some evidence but we might not have proof for many years. But when it comes to your health and your family's health, many choose not to wait for proof."
People can avoid using products with suspected ingredients - for example cosmetics containing parabens, chemicals commonly added to fight bacteria and fungi - or applying pesticides in the home.
"We can bike to work, buy a hybrid vehicle and stand up for better air control at the national level," she said.
To see whether products contain potentially hazardous ingredients, Brody recommends checking the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep website (www.cosmeticdatabase.com), which lists information on about 27,000 cosmetics and personal-care products.
© The Gazette (Montreal) 2008