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Daily News Archive
From April 8, 2002

Breast Cancer and Pesticide Link

One in eight women will get breast cancer this year. It is the leading cause of death in North America for women 35 to 50 years old. Genetics can only account for five to 10 percent of cases; other risk factors, such as lifetime exposure to estrogen and high fat diet account for 15 to 25 percent. What about the other 65 to 70 percent of cases?

Dr. Nicole Bruinsma, a Quebec family physician diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998, testified before the House of Commons Committee on the environment on behalf of the non-profit group Canadian Public Health Association. She told the committee that carcinogens like pesticides are the obvious place to start looking - there is a link between pesticides and cancer. She said she has found evidence from studies of lab animals to humans that explored links between rates of cancers and pesticide exposures. She also stated that over 500 chemicals have invaded the human body in the last 80 years.

According to Dr. Bruinsma, persistent organic pollutants accumulate and concentrate in the fatty tissue, especially the female breasts. Some evidence indicates that women who have breast cancer have 50 to 60 percent higher levels of organochlorines in their tissues than women without breast cancer. Organochlorines are chemicals made from chlorine, including bleach, plastics, deodorants, paints, wood preservatives, pesticides, and cleaning solvents.

Studies of the Inuit in the Arctic have found high levels of contaminants in their tissues and breast milk. They absorb these through the food they eat - whale and seal fat, which means that the whales and seals are acquiring contaminants through the food they are consuming. Another study begun in Ontario in 1995 on the occupational backgrounds of 1,000 people suffering from cancer found that women living in a farm setting displayed a high rate of pre-menopausal breast cancer.

Dr. Bruinsma says there is enough evidence linking pesticides to breast cancer to justify adopting a precautionary principle for their use. "How much evidence is enough?"

Source: Natural Life, January-February 2002, p. 27