San Francisco Chronicle
examine link between breast cancer and environment
VALLES, Associated Press Writer Thursday
research needs to be directed at learning more about the possible
link between breast cancer and the environment, panelists told state
some also cautioned that one proposed method of that research that
legislators heard testimony on -- monitoring breast milk for toxins
-- needs to be conducted without hurting efforts to get more women
to breast-feed their babies.
panelists, a collection of healthcare professionals and representatives
of organizations that fight breast cancer, spoke to the state Senate
and Assembly health committees on Wednesday.
cancer rates in the United States have increased from one in 22
in the 1940s to one in eight today, and the factors that are known
to increase the risk of breast cancer -- reproductive history, genetics,
exercise and alcohol use -- account for less than half of all cases,
said Dr. Ana Soto, a professor at Tufts University.
swift increase cannot be attributed to genetic causation,"
she said. "Yet, the genetic causes of cancer continue to be
the main topic of study in breast cancer research."
way to monitor how toxins accumulate in the body and possibly cause
cancer is to test breast milk. Similar monitoring is done using
urine and blood, but because breast tissue is fatty and breast milk
is high in fat, certain chemicals collect there that don't collect
as well in urine or blood.
the testing does have its limitations and likely won't tell scientists
how much water-soluble or short-lived chemicals have accumulated
in people's bodies, said Dr. Gina Solomon of the Natural Resources
Defense Council. But it's still a good way to identify patterns
and hotspots, she said.
is a way of getting a handle on what's getting into our bodies,"
she said. "It can give us information about who is exposed
with the recent controversy over the effectiveness of breast self-exams
and mammography in detecting breast cancer, and with hormone replacement
therapy sometimes leading to increased risk of the disease, monitoring
of breast milk has some concerned that women will be frightened
into not breast-feeding their children or shortening the time that
they do breast-feed them.
concerns about the pollutants found in breast milk, there is compelling
evidence that breast-feeding is still the best form of nutrition
for babies," said Donna Vivio, director of global outreach
for the American College of Nurse-Midwives.
Brenner, executive director of Breast Cancer Action of San Francisco,
said research money might be directed instead to monitor adolescent
girls, because women are particularly vulnerable when their breasts
are developing, she said.
hearing comes two weeks before volunteers in Marin County will do
their own type of monitoring, conducting a door-to-door survey to
try to gather clues as to why that county has one of the nation's
highest rates of breast cancer.
it follows an attempt in New York to establish a link between breast
cancer and environmental factors after analyzing blood and urine
samples. An $8 million, seven-year study of four toxins -- mostly
now-banned pesticides -- on Long Island did not show a definite
link, although some have criticized the study as too narrow.
Karen Holly, who told the legislators about her life living near
chemical-laden areas, any monitoring comes too late. The two-time
breast cancer survivor, who is battling her third bout of cancer,
said she hopes the causes of breast cancer can be narrowed, and
she plans to take the information she learned Tuesday back to her
community in Richmond, where county officials often suggest people
stay in their homes when one of the nearby oil or chemical plants
discharges something into the air.
have these chemicals we have no control over in our environment,"
she said. "I don't want anybody else to go through this either."