Mounting evidence reveals that toxic environmental exposures may be contributing to the rising rates of breast cancer and other chronic diseases. In the face of such evidence, preventing disease must become our highest priority. To do this effectively we must identify the causes of disease and understand how to change the conditions that permit illness to occur.
A growing recognition is emerging within the scientific community that health must be viewed as an integrated response of all body systems to the environment and that, in many cases, the interaction of toxic environmental exposures with our genes is directly related to the onset of disease. Indeed, many world renowned scientists now believe that cancers, birth defects, asthma, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, neurodegenerative and developmental disorders, and autoimmune disease result from our exposure to adverse environmental agents. These researchers calculate that environmental exposures account for well over half of human cancers, if not many more worldwide.
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), whose sole task is prevention rather than treatment of illness, has declared that “A key strategy for preventing many diseases is to reduce or eliminate adverse effects of environmental exposures.” This preventive strategy underlies the concept of “environmental health” and targets primary prevention rather than so-called chemoprevention.
A blueprint for disease prevention must include the following components:
- Funding of Research That Identifies the Causes of Disease
Our investment in prevention-oriented research must be increased. Only one cent out of every breast cancer research dollar is spent on prevention. The majority of research focuses on damage control-treating disease after it occurs-rather than on stopping harm before it starts. Government on all levels must allocate substantially more research dollars for identification of the causes of breast cancer and other chronic diseases
- Implementation of the Precautionary Principle
The Precautionary Principle-the concept of Better Safe Than Sorry-must be legislatively adopted in New York State as a guiding principle of public policy and government action in the protection of the public’s health. Meaningful utilization of this approach will protect citizens from harmful environmental exposures that confront us daily.
- Disease and Exposure Tracking
Bio-monitoring must be used to study contaminants present in our blood, body fat, breast milk, and other tissue samples in conjunction with tracking disease and geographic environmental exposures. Such information can be critical for targeting prevention strategies.
- Enhancement of the Public’s Right-to-Know
The public must be informed on a regular basis about the toxic environmental exposures that they may encounter in their air, food, water, schools, and communities so that they may identify and make informed choices about those consumer products that are not tainted with contaminants. “Green labeling” of safer products would greatly further this goal.
As an informed public, we must support environmental health research and disease prevention. Given the complexity of cancer and other debilitating diseases, the crawl to a cure remains illusory. Under these circumstances, preventing the start of such illnesses may well be the most practical and meaningful solution to dealing with such diseases. Indeed, the greatest gain in stemming illness and saving lives would result from the long overdue recognition that Prevention Is The Cure.
REDUCING THE RISK OF BREAST CANCER
Until we identify the causes of breast cancer and understand how to prevent it, we must look for ways to reduce our risk of getting the disease in the first place. A substantial body of research exists, much of it poorly publicized, that points toward productive paths to achieve this. These do not include early detection, which is not a risk-reduction technique at all, or drug treatments for those supposedly at high risk, called “chemoprevention.” Rather, they involve taking steps to minimize or eliminate environmental exposures and lifestyle factors that research shows may contribute to an increased risk for getting the disease.
To date, no definitive research exists to demonstrate why 1 in 7 women will get breast cancer in their lifetime, but recent research reveals the following:
- Less than 15% of all breast cancer is due to inherited genetic traits or family history
- Breast cancer incidence is higher in industrialized countries
- The hormone estrogen (naturally occurring or xenoestrogen) plays a key role in the development of breast cancer
- Numerous chemicals have been found to act like estrogen in our bodies (These chemicals can be found in outdoor and indoor pesticides, in personal-care products, and in such plastic products as cookware, shower curtains, food packaging, children’s toys, and medical devices)
- Several household and personal-care products that most people use on a daily basis contain chemicals identified as known, probable, or possible carcinogens
- Ionized radiation from x-rays and nuclear waste is a proven cause of breast cancer
Both individual and collective actions are necessary to reduce the risk of breast cancer. Information on actions that may reduce the risk of breast cancer can be found on various websites on the Internet. Some of those sites are set forth below.
The most comprehensive collection of information on environmental links to breast cancer can be found in a 2004 report, State of the Evidence: What Is the Connection Between the Environment and Breast Cancer?, 3rd Edition, published jointly by the Breast Cancer Fund and Breast Cancer Action.