By Ashley Ross and Sophie Banay MouraCancer: The word alone can paralyze us. Instead of protecting ourselves, we resort to magical thinking—it won't happen to me. That's a mistake. Rates of the top five cancers in women 20 to 39—in order, they are breast, thyroid, melanoma, cervical, and colorectal—are rising. The good news: There's a lot you can do to prevent them. We talked to the country's top doctors and mined the latest research for Marie Claire's first-ever cancer crash course. Here, how to...
At one time or another, all have been suspected of increasing the risk of breast cancer.
The important point to recognize is that most researchers agree that there are no solidly proven links between these -- or other similar environmental factors -- and the risk of breast cancer.
The troubling aspect of this, however, is that many believe it's just a matter of time before we connect the scientific dots and see a picture of increased risk.
"It's true that we have no direct links. But what we do have is a compilation of epidemiological studies, cell culture studies, and animal data that are all consistent and I believe are coming together to show us that some of what women are exposed to every day may be increasing their risk of breast cancer," says Janet Gray, PhD, professor and chairman of the department of psychology at Vassar College. Gray, together with experts from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, recently compiled a report on what we know thus far about the environmental links to breast cancer.
Gray says that while there may be no smoking gun that implicates any one area of concern, or even one chemical, she says the evidence is starting to mount indicating that steady, personal exposure to low levels of lots of different chemicals does matter.
"What's really new in this field," says Gray, is that "finally people are starting to look at interactions -- and the fact that exposure to low doses of lots of different chemicals may yield a result similar to a high-dose exposure to one chemical."
Our Chemical Exposure
And just how many chemicals are we exposed to on regular basis? According to Richard Wiles, senior vice president of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), more than you might imagine.
He reports that an ongoing EWG monitoring project which regularly tests blood, cord blood, urine, and breast milk from 72 adults has so far identified the presence of 455 chemicals that should not be in the body.