Breast Cancer & Environment
About 12 percent of U.S. women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer at some point in their lives. Increasingly, researchers are pointing out connections between certain environmental chemicals in the home and breast cancer, a difficult task considering that just 7 percent of the 85,000 chemicals in use today have been tested for safety. While there's not conclusive evidence providing proof that certain chemicals cause breast cancer, there's certainly evidence prompting cause for concern. To protect yourself and your family, try simple household swaps and avoid these 10 breast-cancer-causing suspects…
The danger: In 2012, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientists found that girls exposed to high levels of dichlorobenzene, a solvent chemical used in some mothballs, were more likely to have their first period an average of seven months earlier than girls barely exposed to the common chemical. Early puberty is a major risk factor for developing breast cancer later in life.
Safer solution: Use a British moth-deterring trick! Many department stores in the United Kingdom have turned to sandalwood and lavender to keep bugs away, instead of using toxic mothball or flake chemicals. Filling a cotton tea bag (available at many health food stores) or an old handkerchief with cloves, tansy, or sweet woodruff could serve as another mothball alternative and keep clothing moths away.
Read More: Natural Solutions to "Dry-Clean Only" Clothing
The danger: Dichlorobenzene also hides out in many toilet deodorizing products, including the ones you hang in the commode. Since this harsh solvent could cause earlier periods in girls—a breast cancer risk factor—it's best to avoid.
Safer solution: To disinfect your toilet, dump in half a bottle of distilled white vinegar, let it sit overnight, then in the morning, scrub the commode with a toilet brush and flush.
Read More: The Worst Cleaners in America
The danger: In a 2012 study published in The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, scientists discovered that phthalates, a class of plasticizing chemicals often used in synthetically fragranced products, help fuel cancer growth in some of the most hard-to-treat types of breast cancer. Long known to act as hormone disruptors and implicated in hormone-sensitive breast cancers, the latest research shows that phthalates also accelerate cancer growth in estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer cells, meaning the plastic chemicals are negatively impacting our bodies in previously unknown ways. In this study, phthalates fueled cancer cells to multiply 3.0 times faster and spread about 2.5 times faster, compared to cells not exposed to phthalates.
Safer solution: Nix scented air freshener sprays and gels, along with scented candles, to avoid phthalate-laced indoor air pollution. Instead, clean up the source of the bad odor and use beeswax candles for ambience. You can also put vodka in a spray bottle and use as an air freshener. It contains ethyl alcohol, a common component of many commercial air fresheners, but without the toxic petroleum additives and synthetic fragrances.
Read More: 6 Weird, All-Natural Air Fresheners
The danger: Phthalates, also used to soften plastics, are found in vinyl products and have been linked to hormone disruption, early puberty, and breast cancer.
Safer solution: Use hemp or cotton shower curtains instead of vinyl; opt for sustainable, natural flooring like Forest Stewardship Council hardwood, bamboo, or cork instead of vinyl; and avoid fake leather furnishings and accessories. Scented personal care products also often contain phthalates. Visit Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database to rate your current products and to find safer alternatives.
The danger: Cadmium, a carcinogenic heavy metal often found in cheap jewelry and some contaminated makeup products, helps fuel breast cancer. Breast cancer cells exposed to cadmium expressed increased levels of a protein that helps cancer spread more easily throughout the body, according to research presented at the 2012 annual meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
Safer solution: User fewer makeup products to reduce your exposure. When applying blush or powders, use a sponge instead of a brush to reduce the amount you breathe in.
The danger: In a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, Canadian researchers found that women exposed to the highest levels of air pollution were nearly twice as likely to develop breast cancer as women living in the least polluted areas.
Safer solution: Telecommute whenever possible to cut back on air pollution. The American Lung Association also suggests avoiding burning fires in a home fireplace or woodstove because they create dangerous particulate pollution. Burning leaves also creates air pollution, so compost or mulch them instead of setting fall leaves ablaze.
Read More: Air Pollution Raises Breast Cancer Risk
The danger: Some pesticides used to grow food are labeled as human carcinogens. Other studies have found these agrochemicals have the ability to stimulate breast cancer cell growth or cause mammary tumors in animal studies.
Safer solution: Eat organic whenever possible. The gold standard is organic food grown locally, which also keeps pesticides out of your community's air and water supplies.
Read More: The Truth about Organic
The danger: Bisphenol A, or BPA, is used in the can liner of most canned drinks and foods in the United States. A known hormone disruptor, BPA is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer. A 2012 study found monkeys exposed to BPA while pregnant were most likely to give birth to little girls with dense breasts, a known risk factor for breast cancer later in life.
Safer solution: Choose fresh or frozen food whenever possible and avoid No. 7 plastics, which could harbor BPA. Say no to trivial cash receipts, as well, since most thermal receipts are coated in BPA. (Be wary of BPA-free claims for packaging—researchers say the replacements could be just as dangerous as BPA, or worse.)
Read More: BPA's Long-, Long-, Long-Lasting Effects
Certain Driveway Sealants
The danger: Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a group of chemicals that occur naturally in coal, crude oil, and gasoline. Used in some private driveway sealants that contain coal tar, PAHs have been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer.
Safer solution: Since PAHs can easily be tracked into the house, take your shoes off at the door. If you seal your driveway, use coal-tar-free versions or, better yet, use permeable paving solutions like gravel.
Read More: The Most Toxic Thing Your Neighbor May Be Using
Mold & Mildew Cleaners
The danger: In a study published in Environmental Health, Silent Spring Institute researchers found women who used air fresheners and cleaned using mold-and-mildew-attacking cleaners (particularly bleach-based ones) were more likely to develop breast cancer compared to women who nixed these questionable household products.
Safer solution: Try this basic bathroom cleaner: Dissolve baking soda in water for spraying or sponging (1/8 cup per quart of water), sprinkle it dry on a damp sponge, or, for tough areas, make it into a paste with a little water. Baking soda has been found to kill certain types of mildew, and for the types it can't kill, its mild abrasiveness allows you to scrub the stuff away. It's safe for most surfaces, but you might want to test a small area first if you have any doubts. Apply the baking soda, either in spray or paste form, leave it alone for an hour or so, and then scrub with a soft brush or old toothbrush. Wipe and rinse well when finished.
Read More: How to Get Rid of Mold Naturally