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Environmental Links to Breast Cancer

Environmental Links to Breast Cancer

Two senators have introduced legislation aimed at exploring potential links between environmental exposure and breast cancer.

Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev) and Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) want to give the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) $30 million for that purpose. The Institute would use the money to fund eight research centers around the country. 

The Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Act has been introduced into the House by Reps. Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Sue Myrick (R-NC). In an appearance before a Senate appropriations subcommittee in May, National Cancer Institute Director Richard Klausner said breast cancer deaths per 100,000 women have increased from 83 in 1973 to 118 in 1998. Incidence rates are increasing by about 1% a year for white women and remain unchanged for African-American women. 

Women have a 1-in-8 lifetime risk of contracting breast cancer, and half of the incidence can be explained by currently known risk factors, such as gene mutations. 

Dr. Klausner did not mention environmental causes as potentially contributing to the other half of incidence. Sen. Reid has expressed concern about the development of cancer in former nuclear weapons workers in Nevada. The NIEHS has considerable experience looking for links between cancer and industrial environments and processes. 

At about the time Sen. Reid was introducing his bill, the NIEHS was releasing a report on a study in 1,400 women in the northeast that showed no link between breast cancer and the industrial chemicals DDT and PCB.

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