How Can We Help?
Links to Other Sites
+44 1483 757 375
KT16 0WJ, U.K.
(please include your name, address and telephone number)
to sign up for our email newsletter notifications
Shopping at Amazon?
Use our link and earn money for New Approaches at the same time
Click here to find out more
Breast Cancer & the Environment
the case for primary prevention
Briefing notes from The Women's Environmental Network (WEN)
Breast Cancer is now the most common form of cancer in the UK.
An estimated 39,500 cases are diagnosed each year, compared to 38,900 new cases
of lung cancer.tthe chances of a woman in the UK
contracting breast cancer during her lifetime have risen from 1:12 in 1995 to
1:9 in 2001.
Each week in the UK 730 women are diagnosed
and 254 women die from breast cancer.
Improvements in detection and treatment
mean women who contract the disease now have a 73% chance of surviving for at
least five years.
Improvements in cancer care have not
reversed the rising incidence rate.
Unlike lung cancer, which can be directly
linked to smoking in 80-90% of cases, there is no one identifiable cause of
breast cancer. Rather there are a number of potential contributory
factors: genetic disposition, lifestyle, diet being those most commonly cited by
politicians, health experts and the media.
Only 8-10% of cases are known to be due to
genetic disposition; Lifestyle accounts for only about 30% of all known
cases; therefore between 50-70% of cases have no known cause.
There is a growing body of evidence linking
breast cancer to the cocktail of chemicals in the air, water, land and in our
food, to which we are involuntarily exposed every day. These chemicals are
commonly used in a range of pesticides, paints, plastics, household and personal
products (see below for some examples).
Efforts to reduce the effects of breast cancer have
concentrated on improving detection and treatment. Great progress has been
made; these are to be applauded and must continue.
We are calling for
greater priority to be given in Government
policy to 'primary prevention' to reduce the incidence, not just the
effects, of the disease.
a separate infrastructure to be created, with a
multi-disciplinary approach involving all stakeholders, to begin work on a
national strategy for primary prevention of breast cancer.
a new independent working group to push this
This could be done by adopting a precautionary
approach and reducing the presence of possible contributory factors in the
environment. WEN believes this will not only stem or reverse the rate at
which breast cancer is spreading, but will have knock on benefits for other
cancers and the environment as a whole. In the long term, health service
budgets could benefit: if fewer people contract breast cancer, demand for
treatment will fall and resources could be freed up for use on other health
care. We are calling for a separate infrastructure because it should not
divert resources away from detection and treatment of the disease.
These demands came out of a forum, organised by WEN
in November 2000 at the House of Commons, that brought together cancer
specialists, patients, and others concerned about breast cancer.
Environmental links to breast cancer
This is just a summary of some of the evidence.
The increasing presence of oestrogen-mimicking
chemicals in the environment through synthetic chemicals in pesticides,
plastics, environmental pollution, household products and cosmetics.
Breast cancer is linked to lifetime exposure to oestrogen; the more
oestrogen we are exposed to in our lifetime, the greater our risk of
developing breast cancer.
Many of the 70,000
synthetic chemicals in regular commercial use are persistent and accumulate
in body fat, including the breast. Some 400 have been detected in
human body tissues and secretions, including breast milk. Of the
fraction that have been tested, several thousand are listed as known or
suspected carcinogens, and several hundred as damaging to the developing
foetus. A chemical may not, by itself, instigate cancer but it may
work with other factors to contribute towards the risk of developing the
Evidence exists in the
United States and Norway of links between male breast cancer clusters and
Synthetic compounds which
have shown hormone-like activity in laboratory tests include organochlorine
pesticides, furans and dioxins from incinerators, surfactants used in
pesticides, paints, cleaning products and in paper and textile production,
synthetic resins and plasticisers used in food packaging.
Pesticides regarded as
potential breast cancer carcinogens include DDT, lindane, atrazine,
endosulfan and chlordane. Most are banned in many countries but still
persist in the environment.
Lindane is linked with
serious health problems including breast cancer and may also disrupt the
endocrine (hormonal) system. It is hazardous both to people who use it
and those exposed to it in the environment or in their food. Thanks to
continuing pressure from the Ban Lindane Campaign, it will be phased out for
agricultural and horticultural use throughout the European Union. But
it's still used as a pesticide in the South, especially on the cocoa crop,
and still allowed for domestic use in Europe.
Imperial Cancer Research
Fund (ICRF) and Cancer Research Campaign (CRC) figures published 5/11/01.
CRC website, 2001.
'Putting Breast Cancer on the Map' report WEN, 1999
Dr Vyvyan Howard, 'Synergistic effects of chemical mixtures...' The Ecologist,
Vol 27, no 5, 1997.
Louis Slesin, Microwave News, June 01, quoting existing research reports; PA
Demers et al, 'Occupational Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields and Breast Cancer
in Men, American Journal of Epidemiology 134, 1991.
Ban Lindane Campaign website Nov 2001
For more information
here to link to the WEN website.
<<back to information page