Breast cancer is a group of cancer cells (malignant tumor) that starts in the cells of the breast. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death among women. Breast cancer is an epidemic. One in eight women will develop the disease, and nearly 40,000 women die from it yearly (though, thankfully, the death rate is decreasing).
Meanwhile, the evidence mounts that common chemicals play a role in breast cancer incidence. Hormone-disrupting chemicals pose a particular concern, since breast cancer is sensitive to hormonal changes. One recent study found women who work in the plastics and food canning industries had a fivefold increase in premenopausal breast cancer. The conclusion? Exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals, including phthalates, bisphenol-A, and flame-retardants, is a decisive factor in breast cancer incidence.
Learning more about these chemicals and working to avoid exposure to them is a key cancer prevention strategy that everyone can embrace. Bisphenol-A, Phthalates, and Parabens are three very common chemicals that have been linked in various studies to breast cancer. Exposure to those three chemicals can easily be reduced and sometimes avoided by reading labels and making informed choices when it comes to buying food, household cleaners, and personal care products. Here’s how:
1. Bisphenol-A (BPA)
BPA is a chemical that has been used to harden plastics for more than 40 years. It’s everywhere. It’s in medical devices, compact discs, dental sealants, water bottles, the lining of canned foods and drinks, and many other products.
More than 90% of us have BPA in our bodies right now. We get most of it by eating foods that have been in containers made with BPA. It’s also possible to pick up BPA through air, dust, and water.
Some studies suggest that possible effects from BPA could be most pronounced in infants and young children. Their bodies are still developing and they are less efficient at eliminating substances from their systems. Hence, it is very important to protect our children from the exposure to BPA.
How to avoid:
- Don’t buy canned foods or look for cans that are BPA-free.
- Just say no to cash register receipts, some of which use BPA in the printing process.
- Choose glass or stainless steel instead of plastic for your food storage and water bottle needs.
- Make sure baby items and kids’ toys are BPA-free.
Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more flexible and harder to break. They are often called plasticizers. Some phthalates are used as solvents (dissolving agents) for other materials. They are used in hundreds of products, such as vinyl flooring, adhesives, detergents, lubricating oils, automotive plastics, plastic clothes (raincoats), and personal-care products (soaps, shampoos, hair sprays, and nail polishes).
Phthalates are used widely in polyvinyl chloride plastics, which are used to make products such as plastic packaging film and sheets, garden hoses, inflatable toys, blood-storage containers, medical tubing, and some children’s toys.
How to avoid:
- Look for products labeled “phthalate free.”
- Stop buying vinyl products, which are softened with phthalates. Choose a cloth or nylon shower curtain instead of one made with PVC. Kids’ stuff should always be PVC-free.
- Leave synthetic scented products like household cleaners, candles, and air fresheners on the store shelf. Choose unscented products or those with natural essential oils instead.
Parabens are chemicals with estrogen-like properties, and estrogen is one of the hormones involved in the development of breast cancer. Parabens are widely used as preservatives in cosmetics — found in lotions, creams, and deodorants. They can be absorbed by the skin and have been linked to breast cancer incidence.
How to avoid:
- Only use personal care products labeled “paraben free.”
- Read labels and avoid ingredients that end with “paraben” such as methylparaben.
- Consult EWG’s Skin Deep Database to get more information about which personal care products contain parabens.
Relationship between Obesity and Breast Cancer
More than 100 research studies have shown that being overweight increases the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women. The suggested increase in risk varies between the studies. A large European study (EPIC) into diet and cancer found that obese postmenopausal women were three times more likely to get breast cancer than those who were not obese or overweight. Doctors think this is because breast cancer is sensitive to levels of the female hormone oestrogen. After the menopause, the main source of oestrogen is from body fat. The more body fat you have, the higher the levels of oestrogen in your body.
A Cancer Research UK study published in December 2011 found that being overweight or obese causes just under 1 in 10 breast cancers (10 percent).
Researchers have also found that if you are obese you are more likely to die of breast cancer than if you are a normal body weight. Doctors think this is partly because breast cancers are more difficult to diagnose in obese women. So breast cancer is more likely to be picked up at a later stage.
Hence, it is very important to maintain a healthy weight in order to decrease your risk of breast cancer (and also many other health problems). If you are currently overweight, do not panic and try all kinds of diets. Weight loss is not about dieting, it is about changing your lifestyle, one habit at a time, so that you can lose weight and achieve your ideal weight permanently.