Environmental Links to Breast Cancer

July 1, 2001
Volume 15, Issue 7

Two senators have introduced legislationaimed at exploring potential links between environmental exposure and breast

Two senators have introduced legislationaimed at exploring potential links between environmental exposure and breastcancer.

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

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

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

Dr. Klausner did not mention environmentalcauses as potentially contributing to the other half of incidence. Sen. Reid hasexpressed concern about the development of cancer in former nuclear weaponsworkers in Nevada. The NIEHS has considerable experience looking for linksbetween 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 in1,400 women in the northeast that showed no link between breast cancer and theindustrial chemicals DDT and PCB.