Breast Cancer Risks Experts Dismiss as Unproven
A great stir was caused by the recent statement by Sheryl Crow on national television that a doctor told her that women should not drink bottled water that has been left in a car, because the heat causes toxins from the plastic to leak into the water. She also said the doctor told her that the chemicals have been found in breast tissue and these chemicals can lead to breast cancer.
Articles on the Internet referenced the websites of organizations that had previously addressed this concern, including Breastcancer.org and Plasticsmythbusters.org, which is affiliated with the American Chemistry Council. Both organizations considered the connection between plastic water bottles and breast cancer risk to be “an urban myth” and say the theory is unproven.
The fact that a direct causal connection has not yet been proven beyond a shred of doubt does not mean that the theory is a myth.
It has been proven that phthalates, which are compounds used as softeners and plasticizers for products made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) accelerate breast cell growth in animal studies. These chemicals have also been found to adversely affect the reproductive and endocrine system, especially in baby boys. In a recent study, phthalates were recently linked to low testosterone levels which appears to cause increased belly fat and pre-diabetes in men.
These softeners and plasticizers are used in a variety of consumer and personal care products including food packaging materials, toys, and medical/pharmaceutical devices and drugs. The most commonly used phthalate is DEHP. Food contamination has definitely been found to occur when plastic food packaging materials are made from PVC that was treated with phthalates.
As a general rule, we should not cook or heat foods in most plastics. This caveat is especially applicable to old plastic containers in which the surface is eroding the concern being based upon the fact that plasticizers are released during heating. Not all plastic containers are microwaveable. Look for directions regarding this on the packaging.
According to a panel doctor on Breastcancer.org, scientists make sure that during animal studies they don’t contaminate experiments with plastics by using old plastic equipment that have been used and washed many times. Don’t you think you should be a little more concern about contaminating your body?
It is possible that water left in the car where the temperature can almost reach the boiling point may be cause for similar concern. It may not be one incident of drinking water from a heated plastic bottle that leads to increased cancer risk, but an accumulation of several risky behaviors or exposure related to plastics just may promote cancer.
We don’t know definitively all the causes of cancer, but we are exposed to so many possible agents that may contribute to cancer, some of them are naturally occurring and some are man-made that there will never be ample epidemiological human studies or data that prove or disprove these “myths.” Some of these agents may not directly cause cancer alone, but they can cause direct damage to genes or disrupt the immune system or alter the hormone balance in such a way as to create a fertile environment for cancer cells to grow.
Another of these “myths” that have circulated on the Internet for several years is that using underarm deodorants or antiperspirants that contain parabens can cause breast cancer. And the consensus among scientists is there is no connection between antiperspirants and breast cancer.
Nevertheless, researchers found six different kinds of parabens in the breast cancer tissue samples of women who were being treated for breast cancer. All of the samples contained some parabens. The amount of parabens in the samples was about equal to the amount that had caused breast cancer cells to grow in test tubes in earlier studies.
The researchers concluded that these chemicals enter breast tissue from outside sources and accumulate in levels high enough to trigger the growth of breast cancer cells. Parabens are also used to preserve foods, medicines, and cosmetics. So there are lots of opportunities for exposure to these chemicals.
Another contributor to breast cancer was recently reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Cadmium, a toxic heavy metal that can build up in the body over time was linked to increased breast cancer risk.
Researchers measured cadmium levels in the urine samples from a group of women and found that women with the highest cadmium levels had twice the breast cancer risk of those with the lowest levels.
People may be exposed to cadmium from tobacco smoke and some foods such as liver, kidney, crustaceans (lobsters, crabs, and shrimp), and canned fish. People who work with cadmium or in refining and smelting are also exposed, but the U.S. government limits such on-the-job exposure.
But once again, we have the usual disclaimer: “The study doesn’t prove cadmium exposure causes breast cancer. It will take more research to figure that out.”
There will never be ample animal studies, much less human epidemiological data that prove or disprove definitively that any specific product or chemicals cause breast cancer in humans. I think it is wise to avoid suspect materials whenever possible. There is usually enough data to conclude whether or not a substance presents a risk that is harmful to your health and may contribute to breast cancer.
Many of these suspect chemicals do not affect only breast cancer risk; they are frequently harmful to the cardiovascular system and overall health.
Consumer reaction that should result if the available data were widely publicized could force consumer product manufacturers and food packagers to search for alternatives.