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Researchers Skeptical About Link Between Breast Cancer And Dry Cleaning, Lawn Service (dateline October 28, 1999)

A number of small studies over the past few years have shown a possible increased incidence of breast cancer in women who use dry cleaning services or professional lawn services. However, several health care professionals doubt the scientific validity of these studies whose data is often contradicted in larger studies.

In one recent study, 1350 women between the ages of 35 and 75 (not necessarily cancer patients) in a Boston suburb were randomly questioned about their health. The results revealed that women in neighborhoods with higher rates of breast cancer typically had higher incomes and were more likely to use dry cleaning services and a professional lawn service than those women who did not have breast cancer. However, published results of the study did not mention whether the women with breast cancer (or who survived breast cancer) had any of the generally accepted risk factors for developing the disease. Those risk factors include:

  • Age
  • Family history
  • Previous breast biopsy showing benign conditions
  • Menstruation beginning at an early age
  • Menstruation continuing past age 50
  • Not having children
  • Having a first child after age 30
  • High fat diets
  • Obesity
  • Mutations of the genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2
  • Long term hormone replacement therapy

Click here for more information on risk factors for developing breast cancer .

Similar data linking pesticides to increased incidences of breast cancer have also been inconclusive, causing a debate among health care professionals. A 1998 study claims that women who have been exposed to the long-banned pesticide Dieldrin were twice as likely to develop breast cancer, compared to women with only low traces of Dieldrin in their blood. Other small studies have shown similar results. However, an equal number of studies, including two larger studies on Dieldrin, have produced opposite results: that there is no link between high traces of Diedrin in the blood and an increased incidence of breast cancer.

PCB and DDT, both banned pesticides, were also once thought to cause breast cancer. In 1976, blood samples were taken from women to check for levels of 48 different pesticides. In 1996, researchers re-tested the blood of 240 women who developed breast cancer and 477 women who did not. The results of the study revealed that there was no correlation between breast cancer and PCB or DDT.

Stephen Safe, a toxicology professor at Texas A&M University does not believe exposure to Dieldrin, PCB, or DDT causes breast cancer. Though he is careful not to completely dismiss the results of small studies linking Dieldrin to breast cancer, Safe told reporters he is skeptical of such studies since Dieldrin is too weak an imitator of estrogen and is no longer widespread.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) warns that there is no definitive link between breast cancer risk and exposure to environmental pollutants, such as the pesticide DDE (chemically related to DDT), and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). While researchers continue to search for possible environmental factors for increased risk of breast cancer, the ACS suggests that women follow the following preventive measures for early detection:

  • Women 20 years of age and older should perform breast self-examination (BSE) every month.
  • Women 20-39 should have a physical examination of the breast (CBE or clinical breast exam) at least every three years, performed by health care professional such as a physician, physician assistant, nurse or nurse practitioner. CBE may often be received in the same appointment as a Pap smear.
  • Women 20-39 should also perform monthly BSE.
  • Women 40 and older should have a physical examination of the breast (CBE or clinical breast exam) every year, performed by a health care professional, such as a physician, physician assistant, nurse or nurse practitioner. CBE can often be performed in the same visit as mammogram. Monthly BSE should also be performed.
  • Women 40 years of age and older should have a screening mammogram every year in addition to annual CBE and monthly BSE.

Some physicians recommend a woman should begin screening mammography at an age ten years earlier than the age her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Click here for more information on the early detection of breast cancer .

Additional Resources and References: