REPORT ON BREAST CANCER CONFERENCE, Ottawa, July 26 - 31, 1999
by: Consumer Health staff
The breast cancer conference at the Ottawa Congress Center attracted more than 1,000 delegates, including medical doctors, researchers and breast cancer survivors. Cancer researchers presented evidence that breast cancer rates were higher in the vicinity of electromagnetic fields and nuclear power plants, and linked to exposure to pesticides and other carcinogens.
INCREASING RATES OF BREAST CANCER Dr. Annie Sasco, a chief epidemiologist with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (part of the World Health Organization) stated that lifestyle and environmental factors including estrogens may partly explain why breast cancer rates are increasing at a rate of about 5% per year. Increases are highest in North America and Europe and lowest in Asia and Africa. Breast cancer is the number one cancer in women throughout the world. The vast majority of breast cancer cases occur in women after age 55, but a growing number of cases are being reported by premenopausal women around age 50.
LINK BETWEEN HORMONES IN MEAT AND CANCER Dr. Sasco mentioned the growing debate over the possible link between the "growth promoters" in meat and cancer. Cattle in the U.S. and Canada are injected with hormones including testosterone, progesterone and synthetic hormones to increase their weight. Researchers in Europe claim that such growth promoters may be linked to health risks such as cancer and developmental abnormalities, and hormone-treated meat is banned in Europe.
POLITICS OF CANCER Dr. Samuel Epstein from the University of Illinois School of Public Health and author of The Politics of Cancer, told the conference that the American Cancer Society and other institutes have a vested interest in focussing on treatment, not prevention, because they have links to major drug and technology companies. "It is my position that the cancer establishments bear a major responsibility for losing a winnable war against cancer", he said.
RISK FACTORS Dr. Epstein compiled a list of cancer risks based on thousands of studies that contain substantive evidence:
1. Early and prolonged use of oral contraceptives; prolonged use of estrogen replacement therapy; other prescription drugs including antidepressants and hypertensives.
2. Routine premenopausal mammographies.
3. Silicone-gel breast implants, especially those wrapped in polyurethane foam.
4. Diets high in animal and dairy fat contaminated with pesticides and other petrochemicals (toxins accumulate in fatty tissue).
5. Eating meat containing hormones to promote animal growth; milk products from cows injected with bovine growth hormone (including cheeses imported from the U.S.).
6. Exposure to dark hair dyes.
7. Exposure to household chemicals; exposure to pollutants from nearby chemical plants and hazardous waste sites; exposure to carcinogens in the workplace.
PCBs IN BREAST TISSUE Kristan Aronson, an epidemiologist at Queen's University discovered PCBs in the fatty breast tissue of women with breast cancer.
NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS People who live near nuclear reactors are far more likely to develop breast and other types of cancer. Dr. Jay Gould, director of the Radiation and Public Health Project in the U.S., says his own research in Long Island, N.Y. shows there are "extraordinarily high" levels of female cancers including breast cancer within 16 km. of a reactor. "I suspect it is a universal problem in the northern hemisphere where most of the reactor emissions and bomb tests have taken place", he said.
STRONTIUM 90 IN TEETH Preliminary data from a U.S. study begun in 1977, the "Tooth Fairy Project", suggests a connection between reactor emissions and breast cancer. Researchers have discovered elevated levels of Sr90 in the teeth of school children. Strontium 90 is a radioactive substance emitted by nuclear waste. Dr. Janette Sherman of Western Michigan University said that levels in children's teeth have not been this high since nuclear testing was banned in the U.S. in 1963. The researchers concluded that the Sr90 must originate from nuclear power stations. Strontium breaks down to a substance, which also lodges in fatty breast tissue, as well as the pituitary gland, and can be linked to breast cancer. The researchers believe that high levels of Sr90 which was released by a research reactor that began operations in Long Island in 1950 are linked to the epidemic of breast cancer in the area. Long Island has a high breast cancer rate and unusually high rate of a rare childhood bone cancer.
TAMOXIFEN Dr. Janette Sherman stated that tamoxifen is linked to genital cancer, liver dysfunction and imbalances of the hormonal system, and may exacerbate undiagnosed breast cancer.
MAMMOGRAPHIES Dr. Rosalie Bertell, an epidemiologist from Toronto, said the medical community must take a serious look at radiation as a strong causal agent in breast cancer. Dr. Bertell believes doctors should be more careful with the use of mammography screening and use the technology mainly as a diagnostic tool. Researchers should be examining non-invasive technology for breast cancer detection.
For more information, references and research abstracts see