Contribute Try STAT+ Today

Our government should take the steps it can to protect Americans from a public health crisis that is claiming thousands of lives. We aren’t just talking about Covid-19 here. We are talking about breast cancer.

Research has linked more than 200 commercial chemicals to the risk of developing breast cancer. This work is from observational studies in people and the ability of these chemicals to cause mammary gland tumors in animal studies. Yet the country’s premier cancer organization, the National Cancer Institute, does not include chemical cancer hazards in breast cancer information on its website.

Despite this extensive evidence, the NCI’s page on breast cancer prevention claims that “[s]tudies have not proven that being exposed to certain substances in the environment, such as chemicals, increases the risk of breast cancer.” This statement is misleading because it doesn’t convey that many chemicals likely increase breast cancer risk given that they do this in animals. It is unethical, and in many cases impossible, to study whether exposure to these chemicals cause cancer in humans, and evidence from animals is widely used as the basis for public health policies that limit chemicals in water, air, and food.

advertisement

NCI is the de facto arbiter of what is considered valid cancer science in this country. Its website should reflect that. By not sharing the existing research on links between exposure to certain chemicals and breast cancer, it creates an information void that gives policymakers, health care providers, health advocates, cancer patients, and the public the impression that there is no problem.

This year alone in the U.S., an estimated 280,000 women and 2,600 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and more than 42,000 women and 500 men will die from it. The majority of these individuals have no inherited risk or family history of the disease. By ignoring the science on breast carcinogens, the NCI puts all women at risk, but especially women of color and low-income women, who are disproportionately exposed to toxic chemicals and pollution.

advertisement

That is why we are taking the unprecedented step of breaking our silence and joining more than 100 individuals and organizations to publicly ask the NCI to take action. Both of us have been, and continue to be, strong supporters of the National Cancer Institute, but with thousands of lives at stake, we can no longer remain silent. As biomedical scientists and public servants, we’ve dedicated our careers to health science. One of us (L.B.) is a toxicologist who served as the director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (which is one of the National Institutes of Health) and the National Toxicology Program. The other (M.K.) is a cancer researcher who, through serving multiple terms on the President’s Cancer Panel, has come to understand the extent to which cancer risk is linked to environmental exposures.

We joined Breast Cancer Action and more than 100 leading scientists, cancer specialists, health and justice organizations, and breast cancer advocates in asking the NCI to share with the public information on chemical links to breast cancer. Drawing on our experience and expertise, we believe that sharing this research would reshape the national approach to prevention-oriented public health policy for breast cancer and beyond by acknowledging the importance of evidence from studies in animals and cells as a tool to identify chemical hazards and reduce exposure to them. This is only the start of efforts to get the NCI to make public this kind of information for all cancers.

Once the NCI publishes information on chemicals linked to breast cancer, we can begin to engage in an honest debate about what should be done to protect the public’s health. Information can save lives — and failing to disclose information will continue to put thousands at risk.

Linda S. Birnbaum is scholar in residence at Duke University and former director and scientist emerita of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program. Margaret L. Kripke is professor emerita at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

  • NCI, Don’t take money given or donated unless FROM ANYONE PERSON OR GOVERNMENT unless you release all information and findings are released. I will be my own advocate thank you!

  • I am a Breast Cancer Survivor. I was diagnosed on May 6 2011. I had my surgery
    on may wedding anniversary. I also had
    Chemotherapy and Radiation. I will be 65
    in January. I have a caring and attentive husband. I have 3 sons, 5 stepsons, 20 grandchildren and 1 great granddaughter.
    But in saying this, I truly feel blessed to be alive. I feel God has blessed me each and everyday! I have granddaughters and a 3
    month old great granddaughter, am I wrong to worry about them getting Breast
    Cancer? Knowledge is power and the more
    we have, the better it is for our future generations to come.

    Raemelle Ballard

  • I am a Breast Cancer Survivor. I was diagnosed on May 6 2011. I had my surgery
    on may wedding anniversary. I also had
    Chemotherapy and Radiation. I will be 65
    in January. I have a caring and attentive husband. I have 3 sons, 5 stepsons, 20 grandchildren and 1 great granddaughter.
    But in saying this, I truly feel blessed to be alive. I feel God has blessed me each and everyday! I have granddaughters and a 3
    month old great granddaughter, am I wrong to worry about them getting Breast
    Cancer? Knowledge is power and the more
    we have, the better it is for our future generations to come.

    .

  • That was a very compelling article but why didn’t you list the chemicals in question? What was the point of bringing awareness to unknown and undisclosed carcinogens? How does that help the reader at all? With credentials such as those mentioned in regards to the members of your organization surely you have thought through your purpose as well as the outcome of making statements such as these with no chemicals listed. You have listed no citations reference links. If you continue to publish articles such as this you will discredit yourselves before your point is made and help absolutely no one.

    • This is brief article and it’s asking action from the NCI as the main topic of conversation. I’m not familiar with this exact topic so I am guessing it’s more than just a few chemicals or substances that can be name dropped into such a short piece. If you want specifics, you can access PubMed and search the studies on animals that are investigating mammalian mammary gland tumors. Abstracts are like summaries of findings, but you can also filter for full free texts. Here’s a link to that, search: mammary gland tumors breast cancer, filters: other animals, full free texts. You can adjust the filters and keywords. That has 1,933 results. This article helps the reader by giving you a heads up at all that this problem even exists, and tells you what is being done about it. The exact chemicals and substances might not be listed for the exact reason that this would then require sources cited which would be like writing a paper in itself. This isn’t a paper being published. The author wrote well for the actual point of this, to let the public know that something huge is being overlooked and left out by the NCI and that the first step is the NCI acknowledging that, afterwards what should be listed and how would possibly be the next step.

  • By using “women of color” in your article, you are categorizing people by their skin color which is racist. We are all unique human beings and should not be grouped by physical characteristics.

  • Thank you! Although I have no credentials, I have thought a great deal about how our information is, in its roundabout way, funded. Toxic stuff met a market need, and spurred the economic growth that made NCI possible. Even with accurate toxicity information, many folk won’t be able to afford statistically safer products; this effort *may* be just another reminder of the awfulness of tight budgetary constraints, putting a dent in the mental health of those who most need support. I wish I knew to whom I could direct this, but medically relevant information needs much more careful handling than we’ve given it. Yes, information can empower people to make healthier choices, but my argument is those who have the power to make those choices are the people who need to know. This is rife with ethical dilemmas, and stands to damage the economic shoulders on which it stands. Medical information handling goes well beyond charts. Where is the think tank dedicated to this and for creating standards, and how do I send them my money?

  • Excellent article on chemical exposure and increased risk for BCA and other CA. I agree it is negligent to not include this type of information about risk factors on NCI’s website. I am sure they have reasons, not good ones, to omit this. Thanks for taking action on this important issue.

  • I trust the authors. A loved one has breast cancer, so this is not purely academic for me. I wrote the massive Toxic Substances Sourcebooks, starting before the Toxic Substances Control Act passed in 1976. My sister ran toxics research for EPA before retiring in disgust a decade ago. I helped create the world’s first environmental course. I’m fellow of the American Institute of Chemists (for air pollution monitoring).

    All that said, many of the studies in this field lack the statistical power from which to draw clear conclusions. They were underfunded in the first place.

  • I am a licensed cosmetologist and I have always been concerned about chemicals in hair dye, perms, straightening black hair (sodium hydroxide), and artificial nails, etc. All of these things are absorbed through your skin, nails, and scalp. Some people have services like these done monthly or even weekly.
    So being exposed to them, our sometimes chemical laden air, water, food, and gardening mixtures, I think it’s too many chemicals to be safe. Something to think about.
    Take care 💖

  • How about actually naming the toxins, providing a review of literature corroborating your claims, and giving people the opportunity to make their own decisions as those decisions relate to daily living risk mitigation?

    • This is a brief article and it’s asking action from the NCI as the main point. I’m not familiar with this exact topic so I am guessing it’s more than just a few chemicals or substances that can be name dropped into such a short piece. If you want specifics, you can access PubMed and search the studies on animals that are investigating mammalian mammary gland tumors. Abstracts are like summaries of findings, but you can also filter for full free texts. Here’s a link to that, search: mammary gland tumors breast cancer, filters: other animals, full free texts.
      https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/?term=Mammary+gland+tumors+breast+cancer&filter=simsearch2.ffrft&filter=hum_ani.animal&sort=pubdate

      You can adjust the filters and keywords. That has 1,933 results. This article helps the reader by giving you a heads up at all that this problem even exists, and tells you what is being done about it. The exact chemicals and substances might not be listed for the exact reason that this would then require sources cited which would be like writing a paper in itself. This isn’t a paper being published. The author wrote well for the actual point of this, to let the public know that something huge is being overlooked and left out by the NCI and that the first step is the NCI acknowledging that, afterwards what should be listed and how would possibly be the next step.

Comments are closed.

Your daily dose of news in health and medicine

Privacy Policy