Breast Cancer Risk May Be Linked to Toxic Environmental Factors

You wouldn’t take a bath in paint thinner or breathe gas fumes for fun, but small “everyday” doses aren’t OK either. A big report on breast cancer and environmental toxins has terrific advice. Didn’t get to read all 300 pages? We YOU Docs dug in for you to get the key stuff on protecting you and yours from environmental chemicals that increase breast cancer risk.

The news must have been tough reading for reporters on deadline because plenty of media accounts got this important story wrong, concluding, “It’s too soon to tell.” It’s not. The Institute of Medicine’s concise message: “Limit or eliminate your exposure to chemicals that are plausible contributors to breast cancer risk.” Consider getting screened for breast cancer.

Sure, there’s a lot we don’t know yet about environmental cancer threats. Cancer can take decades to develop, and over decades we’re all exposed to thousands of compounds. Connecting the dots isn’t easy. But here’s what we do know:

  • About 34,000 cancer deaths a year are due to environmental pollutants.
  • The report found the strongest evidence for secondhand smoke; chemicals in gas fumes, car exhaust and some work environments; and solvents in dry cleaning, paint, and paint thinners.
  • Hormone-like chemicals in plastics, pesticides, and elsewhere could also be a problem.

Don’t shrug off these warnings. Instead, take these five steps to lower your exposure to many toxins that put you at the highest risk for breast cancer:

  1. Don’t breathe in this gunk: tobacco smoke, gasoline fumes, and car exhaust. They have the strongest links to breast cancer risk, so steer totally clear of other people’s tobacco smoke. (YOU don’t smoke, right?) Avoid inhaling gas fumes when you fill up at the pump, and open garage or storage shed doors for a few minutes before going in. Fumes build up in closed spaces where you keep cars, mowers, blowers, and other gas-powered equipment. Avoid vehicle exhaust. Check your indoor air quality to breathe easy.
  2. Keep and try to use this stuff outside: organic solvents in paints, paint strippers, and glues. Air out fresh dry cleaning in the garage or on a porch before bringing it in. Try to find a “green” dry cleaner that doesn’t use trichloroethylene or perchloroethylene. Both solvents are health worries. If solvents are reported in your local water supply, add a carbon filter to your taps.
  3. Sidestep hormone disturbers. The most famous one, BPA, is linked to a protein found in up to 30% of women with breast cancer. Fortunately, BPA has been removed from virtually all hard plastic bottles, glasses, and pitchers, but most canned foods still come in cans lined with BPA-laced material (it excels at blocking spoilage and can contaminates). Also, most thermal receipts from such places as fast-food restaurants and gas stations are BPA-laden. No widely available substitute has been found for can liners or receipts, but the hunt is on. Meanwhile, try to buy fresh or frozen foods, look for BPA-free cans — about 20% are (usually from organic lines) — and don’t take thermal receipts if you don’t need. If you do, stash ’em, and wash your hands before touching food.
  4. Be choosy about personal-care and household products. There’s plenty of carcinogen controversy about certain chemicals in cosmetics, soaps, shampoos, and more. The Environmental Working Group has a cosmetics database of worry-free products, and Green Seal is one good guide to choosing nontoxic cleaners (try baking soda and vinegar, too).

It’s not just about toxins. To really cut breast cancer risk, keep your weight healthy and your waist under 33 inches. Stay active. Stick to one drink daily, and if you’re at above-average risk, don’t drink. Consider hormone replacement therapy for tough menopausal symptoms if you’re not at extra risk for breast cancer and heart disease. We believe taking bioidentical estrogen, micronized progesterone, and two low-dose aspirin daily both cools hot flashes and lowers breast cancer odds. Even without menopausal issues, talk to your doc about low-dose aspirin to counter breast cancer, colon cancer, and stroke. Take aspirin with half a glass of warm water before and after. Got it?!

By Mehmet C. Oz, MD, and Michael F. Roizen, MD

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