Blog: Let’s be clear about the science
Published 18 Jul 2014
Blog by Lynn Ladbrook, Chief Executive, Breast Cancer UK
This week, a supporter asked me why some health blogs and science publications appear to refute that exposure to harmful chemicals in the environment and in everyday products could be putting people at risk of developing breast cancer.
It’s a good question and one that I find hard to fathom myself.
Given that breast cancer rates are increasing exponentially, the need to fully explore and investigate all the possible risk factors has never been more pressing - and exposure to harmful chemicals is not just any risk factor. This issue is sounding alarm bells across the World Health Organisation, as well as the corridors of the French, Danish, Swedish, Polish, Austrian and Belgian governments.
Let’s get one thing straight. We don’t believe that all chemicals are ‘bad’. Everything is made of chemicals and to avoid them all would be impossible. But it would be foolish to ignore the increasing number of leading scientists that have found that some chemicals are potentially harmful to our health because of the way in which they interact with our body and, in particular, interfere with our hormones.
Almost every week I read new, peer-reviewed research by reputable scientists on this issue, so much so that today, there’s a veritable mountain of deeply worrying evidence. That’s a cause for concern to me, and it points to an urgent need for precautionary government action to protect public health.
In light of this, my response to the supporter was that, unfortunately, the blogs and articles that deny the latest science are misleading. The fact is that there is now plenty of evidence that links our exposure to certain, harmful chemicals to an increased risk of breast cancer.
That’s not to say we don’t need more research into this area. We do. The full picture of the role that some chemicals play in breast cancer risk is still emerging. Yet, to give out false assurances by refuting all of the sound science that’s been done thus far, and to dismiss people’s justifiable concerns about using products that contain harmful chemicals - especially when the stakes are so high - flies in the face of public interest.
Our supporter said she’d also specifically asked for advice about anti-perspirants and breast cancer and had been told that the reasons for people’s concern don’t stack up. I think it’s important to give a clearer picture so can you can make your own mind up.
Whilst there’s not yet conclusive proof that deodorants or anti-perspirants cause breast cancer, some scientists are questioning and challenging the ascribed safety for use of the aluminium salts in underarm cosmetics. This is because lifetime exposure to oestrogen is an established risk factor for breast cancer and aluminium has been shown to act as a so-called metalloestrogen, meaning it’s capable of interfering in oestrogen action. So, it’s clear that there are reasonable questions over the safety of many anti-perspirants, questions that are spurring some reputable scientists to conduct further, important research into this area.
We take science seriously at Breast Cancer UK and work hard to ensure that all of our efforts to help prevent breast cancer by reducing our exposure to harmful chemicals is supported and informed by sound scientific data. Perhaps one reason why we’re able to freely explore this risk factor and weigh up all of the evidence based on merit is that we’re utterly independent. None of our funding comes from government, nor from the chemical industries.
For now, my advice? Next time you’re told that there’s no evidence that our exposure to certain harmful chemicals is a risk factor for breast cancer, ask yourself:
- Is that true? Check out the science yourself by reading our reports and factsheets, by doing your own research - and always feel free to drop us a line.
- Who funds the organisation? Find out if they have vested interests in maintaining the status quo on chemicals and health policy.
- Do I want to take this risk? Decide for yourself - and remember, we all thought DDT and asbestos were safe once upon a time.
If you decide to reduce your risk, choose your household and beauty products carefully. Use fewer products that contain harmful chemicals and use them sparingly. Try to eat less tinned food and avoid heating food in plastic.
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