24 October 2002
urges study of alarming breast cancer rates
FRANCISCO - Faced with an alarming and unexplained rise in new breast
cancer cases, California officials called yesterday for a pilot
program to monitor breast milk for signs that environmental contamination
plays in a role in the spread of the deadly disease.
women in America today are getting breast cancer at a rate that
is three times the rate of 50 years ago, something is seriously
wrong," state Assemblyman Dario Frommer said at a special joint
meeting of the legislature's health committees.
"We need to take a hard look at what is causing this surge
in cancer and what we can do to reverse this trend."
and state Senator Deborah Ortiz said they planned to introduce legislation
early next year which would make California the first state in the
nation to embark on a program to monitor breast milk for chemical
contaminants - hoping to draw a link between such everyday products
as pesticides, fuels, plastics and detergents and increasing numbers
of breast cancer patients in the state.
cancer rates across the country have increased steadily in recent
years, with the risk of a woman contracting the disease at some
point during her life now at 1-in-8, against 1-in-22 just 50 years
California in particular has seen breast cancer diagnoses skyrocket.
In the San Francisco Bay area, a woman's chance of contracting breast
cancer is now 1-in-7.
the rising rates of breast cancer can be attributed in part to the
fact that fewer women are dying of infectious diseases and many
now live long enough to develop breast cancer, the disease itself
remains deadly. Nationally, breast cancer is the leading cause of
death in women aged 34 to 55, killing more than 40,000 women across
the country every year.
special legislative hearing in San Francisco was called to address
the latest studies of breast cancer incidence, and what some scientists
say is mounting evidence that environmental toxins are contributing
to the disease.
believe it is high time to seriously consider environmental chemicals
as the most likely cause of this sudden increase in risk,"
said Dr. Ana Soto, a breast cancer specialist at Tufts Medical School.
many breast cancer studies focus on genetics, or lifestyle factors
such as reproductive history, alcohol use and exercise, Soto said
there was little being done to assess how environmental toxins may
be causing cancer.
increasing risk of breast cancer and other cancers has paralleled
the proliferation of synthetic chemicals since World War Two,"
Soto said, adding that only 7 percent of the estimated 85,000 synthetic
chemicals registered for use in the United States had been subjected
to toxicological screening.
IS STILL BEST
public health experts and community groups put forward the plan
to begin monitoring breast milk as a way of tracking what types
of toxins are entering women's bodies.
milk is regarded as a good "biomarker" for exposure to
toxins because chemicals can accumulate in the breast's fatty tissue
for a number of years.
breast milk speaks, people listen," said Jeanne Rizzo, executive
director the Breast Cancer Fund, a San Francisco-based advocacy
most speakers at Thursday's hearing supported beginning a breast
milk monitoring program, many urged that it be undertaken carefully
and in tandem with public education to remind women that - even
with toxic exposure - breast milk is still by far the best source
of nutrition for infants.
is still best," said Donna Vivio, director of global outreach
at the American College of Nurse Midwives.
is one of a number of states competing for a three-year, $3 million
grant from the Centers for Disease Control to implement new monitoring
programs, and Dr. Richard Nuetra of the state's Department of Health
Services said the proposed breast milk program could be one to receive
funding if the grant is won.
Gina Solomon, a senior scientist at the National Resources Defense
Council, said drawing more links between environmental toxins and
breast cancer could help to broaden understanding of who develops
the disease and why.
there is thus far no direct proof that the presence of chemical
contaminants in breast milk directly leads to breast cancer, Solomon
said pilot studies like the one proposed for California could help
to make the connection.
milk is one of several canaries in various mineshafts...but it is
an important one," she said.
by Andrew Quinn