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2 months ago
25 February, 2022
Many people will reach for a weedkiller (pesticide) to help eradicate them. But what are the health impacts of our widespread use of pesticides and what are the links to breast cancer?
How are pesticides used and what is the impact on our health?
Pesticides are widely used to control pests (insects (insecticides), rodents (rodenticides), fungi (fungicides) and weeds (herbicides). Many are toxic and potentially harmful to animals, plants and humans (1).
Pesticides can have short term, acute, effects such as respiratory, eye and skin irritation or nausea. High concentrations may even cause death. They also have chronic, long-term effects, such as neurological or reproductive effects (2).
Some have the potential to disrupt our hormone systems, known as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) (3), and can play a role in the development of cancers, such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma, colorectal and breast cancers (4).
We get exposed to a cocktail of pesticides primarily through the food we eat and the water we drink. Pesticide residues are often found in or on food after pesticides are used on food crops; these may be particularly harmful to our health. Many can build up in our bodies and are routinely found in fat tissue, blood and urine (5).
Why are we concerned about pesticide exposure?
Pesticides could increase breast cancer risk by acting as carcinogens (cancer-causing agents). Causing gene mutations that lead to or promote cancer. They may act as EDCs and disrupt sex hormones including oestrogen (6). High levels of natural oestrogen increase breast cancer risk (7).
Similarly, EDCs that affect oestrogen by mimicking its actions or effectively increasing its concentration in the body may also increase risk. Exposure to such pesticides in the womb may affect breast development and make us more vulnerable to developing breast cancer as adults (8).
Many pesticides used today are EDCs that affect oestrogen (9) and/or cause mammary cancer in animals (10). They may also increase breast cancer risk. Most studies examining direct pesticide exposure with breast cancer incidence show an elevated risk (11, 12, 13).
Although there is currently insufficient evidence to show eating organic food reduces breast cancer risk (14), there is evidence that organic food contains less pesticide residue (15). We know that certain pesticides are linked to breast cancer risk, so we would recommend eating organic food whenever possible.
What can you do to lower your exposure?
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