Breast cancer is a very real and terrifying disease. No one is immune. Through out Western cultures it is becoming ever more prevalent when compared to under developed countries. Is it stress? Bad genes? Alcohol? Well yes, it could be any of these, but recent studies have shown that there may also be a link between environmental factors and the incidence of breast cancer. In industrialised countries we are subjected to chemicals, hormones, pesticides and a wide variety of other toxins that could make us more susceptible to developing tumours. Certainly when Japanese women have moved to the USA there is a noticeable increase in the number of women developing breast cancer, compared to those who remained in Japan.
When it comes to health, every single one of us has our own opinion on what is good for us and what’s not. In fact it is almost impossible to avoid the sensationalist headlines about the root of health problems. One minute the latest food supplement is supposed to beat off any pathogens, the next it’s as good as taking a placebo! Recently there has been building scientific evidence that some synthetic chemicals may increase the risk of breast cancer. There have been calls for big corporations, such as Estee Lauder, to review the ingredients used in their products after it was highlighted that several were on a list of chemicals linked to cancer. Whilst these companies have public profiles that actively support cancer charities, they apparently continue to use potentially harmful ingredients. So what’s the truth behind this?
Some evidence has indicated that exposure to certain chemicals during the maturation of the mammary glands, may lead to a greater susceptibility to developing breast cancer in later life. At the University of Cincinnati Center tests have shown that childhood obesity and exposure to oestrogen like compounds in early life can lead to an early menstruation and increased susceptibility of the mammary gland to carcinogens. Exposure to certain chemicals in adolescence may keep the mammary gland in an immature state for longer periods, possibly increasing its vulnerability to carcinogenic compounds.
Environmental compounds that increase breast cancer risk have been found to be acting like hormones, in particular oestrogen. Parabens, commonly used in lotions, shampoos and other cosmetics are similar to oestrogen and have been found to disrupt hormone function. There have also been rumors circulating that antiperspirants can interfere with lymph circulation, cause toxins to build up in the breast and may eventually lead to breast cancer.
Similarly some substances found in plastics, pesticides and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) display oestrogen like qualities, that could in theory be linked to breast cancer.
Whilst these stories are all alarming and could present serious health risks, it is important to remember that these are still undergoing scientific research. As of yet there are still very few confirmed links between breast cancer and exposure to these compounds. So far only a few associations have been made and under questionable methodologies!
Whilst there might only be tenuous links between chemical compounds and breast cancer, the evidence still stands that there is a clear difference in the rate of incidence between industrialised and under developed countries. So regardless of proven scientific trials, there must be some truth behind the claims that these synthetic compounds have detrimental effects on our health, but to what extent it is still unclear. After all in countries with well established health care systems the number of cases left undiagnosed will be substantially lower than in countries without. So the verdict is out for now, but there is certainly no harm in avoiding these synthetic compounds.