Glenn Ellis

*Many of the established risk factors for breast cancer—such as earlier menstrual cycle later menopause, childlessness, and delayed childbearing—are ones women cannot change. And established risk factors do not account for all breast cancer cases. We simply do not know as much as we should about one of the overlooked factors.

Although the American Cancer Society estimates that environmental pollution causes 6% of all cancer deaths — or about 34,000 lost lives each year — they don’t offer specific advice on which chemicals to avoid to reduce breast cancer risk.

Many people are now looking at our increasingly polluted environment as a possible culprit. Breast cancer incidence in the United States has risen since World War II, when industry began pumping out pesticides, plastics, solvents, and other chemicals, leaving residues in our air, water, and soil. Laboratory studies suggest that many of these chemicals may cause breast tumors, hasten their growth, or leave mammary glands more vulnerable to carcinogens.

A woman’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is 1 in 8—representing a dramatic increase since the 1930s, when the first reliable cancer incidence data were established. Between 1973 and 1998 alone, breast cancer incidence rates in the United States increased by more than 40 percent. Strikingly, the increasing incidence of breast cancer since the 1930s parallels the proliferation of synthetic chemicals. Today, approximately 85,000 synthetic chemicals are registered for use in the United States, more than 90 percent of which have never been tested for their effects on human health.

The United States has seen a decline in breast cancer incidence in 2003 and 2004; a change that has been largely attributed to post-menopausal women discontinuing their hormone replacement therapy after research showed that it can cause breast cancer.

A report  by the Breast Cancer Fund presents a comprehensive summary of the scientific data on the environmental causes of breast cancer. The report catalogues the growing evidence linking breast cancer to, among other factors, synthetic hormones in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and meat; pesticides in food; solvents in household cleaning products; BPA in food containers; flame retardants in furniture; and radiation from medical treatments. The report also highlights impacts on the most vulnerable populations (including infants, pregnant women, African-American women and factory workers).

A number of studies suggest that such claims are not unfounded. Nationally, a 1987 study by the United Church of Christ’s Commission on Racial Justice found Blacks were four times were more likely to live in areas with toxic and hazardous waste sites than Whites. A 1992 investigation by the National Law Journal found that when government does enforce environmental regulation and fine companies, fines are much higher in White communities than in Black ones. In Louisiana, reports by the US Commission on Civil Rights and an unreleased report by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region Six, have raised concerns about the location of chemical plants and their possible   impact on the health of their neighbors, who are primarily people of color.

These reports, and a host of activities by environmental justice groups nationwide, prompted President Clinton in 1993 to sign an executive order directing federal agencies to examine policies for disproportionate impact on people of color. As part of these efforts, the Clinton Administration set up the Office of Environmental Justice at the EPA.

Here are 9 Breast Cancer environmental prevention tips, which I came across:

1. Avoid: Toxic cosmetics, skin care and sunscreens.

Why: Unfortunately, these products contain carcinogens, hormone disruptors and a long list of other ingredients that may be linked to certain cancers.

Choose: Healthy sunscreens and skin care cosmetics.

2. Avoid: All Teflon and non-stick coated cook and bakeware.

Why: At 680°F Teflon pans release at least six toxic gases, including two carcinogens, two global pollutants, and MFA, a chemical lethal to humans at low doses.

Choose: Cook with cast iron cookware or high-quality  stainless steel.

3. Avoid: Smoking, second hand smoke and car exhaust (avoid Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon, also known as PAH’s)

Why: The chemicals in cigarettes and cigarette smoke contain poisons, carcinogens and heavy, toxic metals.

Choose: Clean air

4. Avoid: Toxic dry cleaning containing PERC (Perchloroethylene)

Why: The EPA identifies PERC as a known human toxin. It usually enters the body through inhalation and remains stored in fat tissue, impairs neurological function, along with a higher cancer risk.

Choose: Green dry cleaners.

5. Avoid: BPA exposure (bisphenol A) in plastics.

Why: Prenatal exposure to BPA may be linked to adult hormonal cancers, like breast and prostate cancers.

Choose: Glass baby bottles, as well as BPA-free water bottles and BPA free canned food.

6. Avoid: Being still, sedentary, couch potato.

Choose: Exercise daily – whether it’s walking, running, yoga, ….you decide.

Why: Reduces the risk of breast cancer by lowering estradiol and progesterone, two ovarian hormones linked to breast cancer tumor production.

7. Avoid: Toxic water.

Why: Most water contains arsenic, fluoride, chlorine and other unhealthy toxins.

Choose: Filtered drinking water

8. Avoid: Toxic pesticides and weed killers:

Why: Commonly used lawn care products contain endocrine disruptors and carcinogens, which have been implicated in increased risk for breast cancer as well as other health problems.

Choose: Natural pesticides that contain no endocrine disruptors or carcinogens.

9. Avoid: Toxic Food

Why: Food is over processed with additives, preservatives, poisonous pesticides and fungicides and heavy metals, resulting in very little nutritional value. People are eating products instead of whole food.

Choose: Organic whole food.


The poor are most likely to be exposed not only to the worst quality, the most noise, the worst water and to hazardous wastes and other toxins, but also of particular consequence, to lower-quality environments on a daily basis at home, in school, on the job and in the neighborhood. The poor, especially the non-white poor, bear a disproportionate burden of exposure to lower-quality, unhealthy environmental conditions in this country.

We know that lifetime exposure to estrogen is a risk factor, so it is logical that if we have chemicals that are creating more estrogen, the risk may go up.

Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one.

Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!

This column is not meant to replace the advice or treatment of your doctor or other medical professional

Glenn Ellis, author of Which Doctor?, is a health columnist and radio commentator who lectures, and is an active media contributor nationally and internationally on health related topics

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