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Cleaning Products Linked to Breast Cancer?

Study Suggests Household Cleaning Products May Raise Breast Cancer Risk, but Experts Disagree

Second Opinion continued...

''I'd say that the study really isn't informative about their actual risk," he says. "It's much more informative about why this particular line of study is not reliable. It's not informative. And it is not going to answer the questions."

As to the risk of cleaning products, Thun says, "The jury's out. We know there is a lot of concern about cleaning products from environmental groups."

Ideally, the way to study the potential link, he says, is to define the exposure to cleaning products in advance, then follow the women. He concedes this is difficult and time consuming and ''probably not going to happen."

Still, the "self-report" technique is unreliable, he says, especially in those already diagnosed. "If I have breast cancer, I am going to be looking for a reason," he says.

''There's concern because of recall bias," agrees Susan Brown, director of health education at Susan G. Komen for the Cure in Dallas. Understanding the effects of cleaning products will take more study, including research that follows a group of women over time, she tells WebMD.

''It is our experience that once people are diagnosed with breast cancer, they are so interested in trying to figure out what caused it, they look at things in a different way,'' Brown says."They look at every exposure, every behavior as suspect, perhaps part of the reason they got breast cancer. It's perfectly natural, but that doesn't necessarily lead to good science."

What should women concerned about cleaning products do until more research is in? Thun says environmental groups offer suggestions on using simpler cleaning products, such as soap and water and baking soda.

Thun also suggests focusing on known ways to reduce breast cancer risk, including maintaining a healthy weight, engaging in physical activity, minimizing alcohol intake, and avoiding hormone replacement therapy.

Industry Response

In a statement, the American Cleaning Institute challenged the findings. The research, according to the statement, "far overreaches in its conclusions based on self-reported uses of cleaning products by persons diagnosed with breast cancer."

It continues that ''the research is rife with innuendo and speculation about the safety of cleaning products and their ingredients."

Also taking issue with the look-back approach, the statement notes that women were asked to recall products they used in the past.

Brody defends her study. "This is a first look and there are cautions about interpreting it," she says.

In ongoing research, her team is testing air and dust in women's homes and finding compounds from consumer products that could be harmful, she says. "We are focusing on understanding exposures from consumer products," she says, to identify which are potentially harmful.

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