All this month, we’re going to be talking about breast cancer. We’re talking about the health side of it–like symptoms and treatments–as well as the human side, like how to talk to someone who’s been diagnosed. But a new study published in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment highlights another huge part of the conversation: Causes, or potential causes. According to the study a kind of chemical banned in 1977 may still be increasing our risk of breast cancer.
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were outlawed in the United States decades ago–but there are still plenty of legacy sources of the chemicals, which leach into the soil and water. The chemicals are still so prevalent, the study’s authors note that “nearly everyone alive today has been exposed to PCBs.”
PCBs are especially risky for women who are pregnant–which is scary, considering “all pregnant women in a 2011 study by University of California San Francisco associate professor Tracey Woodruff, PhD, were found to have PCBs in their blood.”
But exposure alone isn’t the problem–it’s what exposure may mean for breast cancer. From the study:
1 out of 4 women in the study had a high proportion of PCB 203, along with a lower proportion of two other PCBs. These women had a 3-fold increased likelihood of developing breast cancer by age 50, when compared to the quarter of women who had the lowest proportion of PCB203.
This is an extremely relevant study for two reasons: First, because it finds a firm link between environmental causes and breast cancer, which scientists are often hesitant to do unless they’re really pretty sure.
The second reason this study is important is that it has larger implications about chemicals and their lasting impact on public health. The FDA has been slow to take steps toward a ban chemicals like BPA, which have been found to have profound health risks. But even if they do eventually get it together and force manufacturers to stop using toxic chemicals, this study shows how long it will take for them to truly be eradicated.
Using an abundance of caution when implementing bans on toxic chemicals makes sense for businesses, but not for people. This study shows how pervasive toxic chemicals like PCBs are–and how critical it is to take steps to protect the public from them.
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