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summary of: Breast Cancer-Pollutant Link Unproven. The Washington Post
Breast Cancer-Pollutant Link Unproven. The Washington Post,
October 30, 1997, pA4.
A recent study has found no evidence that two types of
endocrine disrupting substances, the pesticide DDT and
polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), cause breast cancer in women.
This report contradicts similar studies that have shown a link
between the substances and a woman's risk of getting breast
"There are good ecologic reasons to avoid the release of DDT
and PCBs into our environment," said the report authors in
today's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, "but on the
basis of our results, the use of these compounds does not explain
the high and increasing rates of breast cancer."
DDT and PCBs accumulate in fat tissue in people's bodies and
break down very slowly. Even though neither of the substances
have been produced in the US since the 1970's, they are still
present in the environment.
Previous studies of these substances have suggested that
they can mimic the effects of estrogen in women. Some scientists
believe that the presence of these chemicals in the environment
may also be linked to a drop in male sperm counts in the last
This most recent study was led by Mary S. Wolff of the Mount
Sinai School of Medicine in New York. The women studied were
nurses who were already participating in a Harvard study. 240
women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer were compared to
240 women with similar characteristics and lifestyles who had no
cancer. Levels of DDT and PCBs were examined in frozen blood
samples which had been taken from the women in 1989. The study
found that the levels of the substances were similar in the women
with cancer and those without.
Devra Lee Davis, director of health environmental
development at the World Resources Institute, points out that
when the exposure to these chemicals occurs can have an impact on
the risk of breast cancer. Prenatal exposure or exposure soon
after birth may cause permanent changes in the way some organs
respond to carcinogens later in life, says Davis.
"Prenatal exposures and even what you do as an adolescent
can be of enormous importance to your breasts when you're 40 or
50," said Davis. "This study certainly doesn't exonerate these
** The above story was also reported in: **
Study Discounts DDT Role in Breast Cancer. The New York Times,
October 30, 1997, pA26.