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Reduce risk of breast cancer: Avoid certain plastics, cosmetics

July 6, 2008
By Linda E. Wegner, For The Leader-Herald

By Linda E. Wegner, For The Leader-Herald

Reduce the Risk of Breast Cancer: Avoid Certain Plastics and Cosmetics

Using certain plastics and cosmetics may increase the risk of breast cancer according to emerging scientific research cited by Cornell University investigators.

Drinking from hard-plastic water bottles and using such personal-care products and cosmetics as shampoo, lotion and lipstick that contain certain chemicals can increase exposure to environmental estrogens that may contribute to breast-cancer risk.

"There is new evidence that even at very low levels environmental estrogens commonly found in such everyday products as cosmetics and certain plastics, as well as from environmental contaminants that get into our soil and water, can have additive effects," said Suzanne Snedeker, associate director for translational research, for Cornell's Program on Breast Cancer and Environmental Risk Factors.

Estrogen is a hormone produced by women's ovaries, but certain chemicals from everyday products can mimic estrogen's effects and can work together with the body's own estrogen to increase breast-cancer risk. In addition, most breast tumors depend on estrogen to grow.

"We know that life-long exposure to estrogen increases the risk of breast cancer. We are exposed to mixtures of many estrogenic chemicals every day. And even though these environmental estrogens are present at low levels, emerging research does suggest exposures to these chemicals can add up, and over time they may increase a woman's risk of developing breast cancer," Snedeker cautioned. "Yet, many of these environmental estrogens can be avoided."

For instance, heat or scratches can cause an estrogenic chemical called bisphenol A to leach out of hard plastic water bottles. Bisphenol A is found in polycarbonate plastics with recycle symbol No. 7.

While bisphenol A is not found in single-use water bottles, Snedeker recommends using stainless steel water bottles as the best environmental alternative.

Chemicals are looked at individually when assessing health risks, not as mixtures of chemicals, Snedeker points out. Since estrogenic chemicals are prevalent in so many products, there is concern that there is widespread exposure from multiple sources and collectively these estrogenic chemicals may increase the risk of breast cancer.

"The Centers for Disease Control has started to look at levels in people and for the first time is documenting widespread exposure to a number of environmental estrogens," said Snedeker. "We are targeting young women now because we now know that lifelong exposure to estrogen increases breast-cancer risk, so anything young women can do to reduce their estrogen exposure, reduces their risk.

BCERF has recently produced and posted three short online videos.

Using live-action video and animation, the videos point out for example, that 70 percent of breast cancers are not genetic and that breast cancer may take decades to develop, so women in their teens, 20s and 30s can make informed choices and adopt habits to significantly reduce their risk.

The new Cornell videos on reducing breast-cancer risk suggest that individuals:

Avoid cosmetics and personal-care products with parabens, placenta extracts and benzophenomes or other ultraviolet screens that are estrogen mimics.

Hand wash plastic bottles or containers using a mild detergent.

Do not use harsh detergents or scouring pads that can cause scratches.

If containers or bottles become scratched, bring to a recycling center.

Avoid hard-plastic sports bottles that have been scratched or heated (including those left in hot cars or on the beach), because heat and wear and tear can cause estrogenic chemicals to leach out from the plastic into beverages.

Use stainless steel containers as an alternative to plastic water bottles.

They should be made of high quality, food-grade stainless steel inside and out (e.g. no plastic liner).

Should consider using glass baby bottles in place of plastic baby bottles.

Should not put polycarbonate bottles in the trash. Over time, bisphenol A can leach from landfills.

Should never microwave food or liquids in plastic containers. Do not microwave in polycarbonate bottles or food containers.

Instead, microwave food or beverages in glass or lead-free ceramic containers.

Should consider increasing the use of fresh foods and dried foods (e.g. beans, dried fruit) to avoid canned foods from epoxy-lined cans that may contain bisphenol A.

Recycle cell phones and other electronic devices and rechargeable batteries to keep estrogenic heavy metals from leaching into the environment.

Should use biodegradable detergents that use plant- or vegetable-based surfactants, since these types of ingredients don't form estrogenic chemicals that can contaminate the environment.

The BCERF videos, which were supported by the New York State Department of Health, are available at, and the Web site offers additional information, including the science behind the recommendations.

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Fulton and Montgomery Counties provided this column.



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