A Different Kind of Roundup: A Summary of Cancer Culprits
This article is excerpted from Liane Casten's recent book, Breast Cancer: Poisons, Profits, and Prevention, published by Common Courage Press, 1996.DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloro-ethane), a colorless, odorless chemical compound, was discovered in 1939 to have powerful insecticidal properties. The military used it during World War II to combat the malaria that was affecting troops in the Pacific theater. Eventually, the use of DDT was expanded to nearly all foodstuffs, vegetable and animal, as well as into commercial and home pest-control and moth-proofing.However, like all powerful insecticides, DDT's negative aspects began to appear early on. DDT killed "good" insects as well "bad." And the insects that survived were resistant to the pesticide. By 1969, the results of the DDT blitz had become so damaging that a blue-ribbon Department of Health, Education, and Welfare commission on pesticides recommended that the use of DDT be discontinued because of insect resistance and the chemical's toxic effects and persistence. Three years later, DDT use was banned in the United States. (Sweden banned DDT in 1970; by the mid-1990s, Japan and most European countries had banned it too.) However, production of DDT and its relatives continues worldwide, and it is readily available today, even in the United States. Even if it were not available, it is still with us. The compound has a life of seven years, by which time it has decomposed to the compound DDE, which is useless but also highly toxic. It takes up to 30 years to eliminate these compounds from the environment. And DDT and associated organochlorines can be excreted in the breast milk of all animals tested, including cows and humans. This load of hormonally active chemicals is transferred via the placenta to the developing fetus, and via the milk to the nursing infant. Polychlorinated Biphenyls Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) are another group of organochlorines that are extremely dangerous to humans. Like the other organochlorines, PCBs behave as toxic estrogens, can pass the placenta into the developing baby, are concentrated in breast milk, and are directly connected to breast cancer. An important study by Drs. Frank Falck, Mary Wolff, and associates was published in the March 1992 issue of Archives of Environmental Health. Forty women who had been seen for palpable breast masses in 1987 were examined by the investigators. They found that the tissues of women with breast cancer showed concentrations of PCBs, DDT, DDE, and other hydrocarbon-based pesticides 50-60 percent higher than normal. "The results," the team wrote, "... suggest a role for environmentally derived suspect carcinogens in the genesis of mammary carcinoma ..." Dioxins -- chemical compounds that always include chlorine -- are profoundly toxic, even at the smallest concentrations.They affect the body in many ways.The February 1996 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives published a study by Kang, Wilson, and associates identifying DDT, dieldrin, and toxaphene as having potential for promoting tumors in human breast tissue by suppressing the body's natural anticarcinogenic actions. The authors identified these chemicals as "pollutants in the Great Lakes [that] have found their way through the food chain into humans because of their environmental persistence..." In the early 1990s, the pulp and paper industry -- under pressure from mounting lawsuits -- had prodded the EPA to reassess its analysis of dioxin. The EPA hired independent scientists to study dioxin's properties on a number of levels. The research done by the independent scientists was damning. The final EPA report, however, took into consideration the political aspects of the issue and softened the findings. Carefully worded though the EPA report was, the evidence is still compelling, and a reading of it still produces the strong sense that the dioxin in our bodies is creating a national health crisis. Dioxins are an entire family of chemicals, most of which are formed during the manufacture or burning of chlorinated products. Although TCDD is the most toxic of the group, it is by no means the only harmful family member: there are at least 209 other forms of dioxin. However, government regulators and industry scientists frequently test only for TCDD in their products and in the environment. Therefore, the total biological effect on our population is greatly underestimated. (The EPA quietly admits that beef is a significant avenue of contamination.) Once dioxins are in a woman's body, they are concentrated even more in her body fat. Because breast tissue is so fatty, the poisons are passed on to nursing infants through the breast milk. And one of the most insidious actions is the concentration in breast milk in higher levels than are found in the foods adults eat, as noted by Beth Baker in the Fall, 1994, Environmental Action. Cousins of dioxin are employed as antibacterial and preservative agents, including the popular wood preservative pentachlorophenol, which is commonly used to treat lumber. Thus, the wood on your backyard deck may be full of dioxin. Other common household products that may contain at least trace levels of the compound include cotton garments (pentachlorophenol having been used in growing and processing the cotton, according to Greenpeace), disposable diapers, tampons, and paper coffee filters, and most other items that have been bleached during production. All of these toxins are bad enough alone, but when they are combined (as they are in our environment), their effects are enhanced incredibly. A study published in the June 7, 1996 Science showed that combinations of these compounds can be up to 1,000 times as potent in producing breast cancer as the individual compounds. Presently, EPA monitors environmental chemicals one at a time. DES once was prescribed for the prevention of miscarriages, the treatment of postmenopausal "complications," headaches, dizziness, nervousness, depression, frigidity, insomnia, muscle and joint pains, vaginitis, gonorrhea, and infertility. It was also prescribed to prevent conception, and was given to cattle, pigs, and poultry to promote weight gain. And it was a public health disaster. DES is no longer on the market. However, it still has potential to cause breast cancer because of the disease's latency period -- the time between initial exposure to a carcinogen and the discovery of a cancer. Thus, women who took DES (or whose mothers took DES) may discover that they have breast cancer 20 or more years after the exposure. By the 1950s, DES had become a major food additive. It was used in cows to increase milk production, and in steer, swine, and poultry to increase weight, despite reports of adverse effects on the animals. DES was promoted to fatten both chickens and cockerels to upgrade an entire market, although as early as 1947 a hormonal effect had been demonstrated in women who consumed poultry treated with DES (Bird, Endocrinology , 1947). In 1971, Judah Folkman estimated that three-quarters of the 40 million cattle slaughtered yearly were treated with DES (Folkman, New England Journal of Medicine, 1971). DES had become a ubiquitous element in our food supply, distributed without caution. It was not until December 1973 that Congress banned DES-laced food. (During congressional hearings that year before the Committee on Governmental Operations, it was revealed that the FDA had rejected the recommendations of its own Advisory Panel on Carcinogenesis, delaying the removal of DES from the food supply.) Despite this, more than a decade after its banning, tax-supported research into the use of DES in cattle was still being conducted. And although the use of DES has been banned, other synthetic hormones have taken its place. If you are approaching menopause, your doctor may give you a full-color videotape and booklet containing sample tablets of Premarin from the manufacturer, Wyeth-Ayerst, the corporation that bills itself as providing worldwide leadership in female health care. They may be right on one level: more than five million women currently take Premarin, and the company's pamphlet, "What Every Woman Should Know About Estrogen," claims that the drug is prescribed by doctors six times more often than any other estrogen product. (These products, including Amnestrogen, Conestron, Estrifol, and Genisis, have been identified as carcinogenic by the National Technical Program, Fourth Annual Report on Carcinogens, 1985.) Traditionally trained doctors are usually happy to recommend Premarin or progesterone. Millions of women will take these synthetic hormones in the hopes that their symptoms will go away, that bone loss will be stopped, that their hearts will be stronger. And many of them will be able to avoid the symptoms of that natural life change. But, these little pills are not risk-free. There is a great deal of evidence linking hormone replacement therapy (HRT to breast cancer. According to Dr. Julian Whitaker, editor of the monthly alternative health newsletter Health & Healing , there have been at least 30 such studies, all of which have revealed an increase in breast cancer risk of from one percent to 30 percent. The adverse effects from postmenopausal use of estrogens have been well-documented, indicating an elevated risk after only two years of use and a twenty-fold increase in endometrial cancer after 10-15 years of replacement therapy (Weiss, JAMA,1979). One study is especially telling. Prolonged use of HRT -- more than five years --doubles the risk of breast cancer, according to a 14-year follow-up from an ongoing Nurses Health study conducted at the Harvard Medical School and reported in the April 1994 issue of Oncology News . Adding to the concerns about HRT is a 1996 report published in the Journal of the NCI . Epidemiologists at the University of Washington in Seattle looked at the medical records of 8,779 women over the age of 50 and found that the use of HRT seemingly decreased the efficacy of mammograms because of the increased breast density that HRT frequently promotes. The group found that four of 13 cancers in women currently using HRT were not detected by mammogram, as opposed to only two of 34 cancers that went undetected in women who had never had HRT. For women who legitimately need HRT, Dr. Whitaker advises them to take a compound of estrogens made up of estriol (80 percent), estrone (ten percent), and estradiol (ten percent). Estriol is weaker than the other estrogens; thus the combination with small amounts of estrone and estradiol, which Whitaker feels will "dramatically improve its effectiveness." The combination is called "tori-estrogen" or "tori-est" and can be made by any compounding pharmacy. (A compounding pharmacy is one that actually formulates, or compounds, drugs. Contact Professionals and Patients for Customized Care, 713-933-8400.) Also recommended is natural progesterone, not the synthetic Prover, the most popular brand of progestin, which is listed in the Physicians Desk Reference as having no fewer than 30 possible adverse side effects. Prover, the synthetic progestin, is unable to synthesize other hormones or help the body produce the other hormones it needs to function at full potential. Natural progesterone can be taken as a transdermal cream or by eating yams and soybeans--plants that contain large amounts of natural progesterone which are exact chemical copies of the progesterone produced by your body. However, if your symptoms are not as severe as you may be led to believe, it's quite possible that postmenopausal heart disease and bone loss can be controlled with careful diet, calcium supplements, no smoking, and adequate exercise. (The August 1996 issue of Women's Health Advocate includes a concise table showing how to deal with menopause symptoms through diet, lifestyle changes, and supplements and herbs. Write to Aurora Publications, 3918 Prosperity Avenue, Fairfax, VA 22031) The benefits of these noninvasive activities are just now being studied. A recent study by Ettinger and Grady suggests it's better not to even start the HRT program. In the October 14,1993 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine , the two researchers state that, in order to stop the normal thinning of bone mass that occurs with age, women who start HRT must continue therapy for the rest of their lives: "Discontinuation of hormone use results in rapid bone loss to the level that would have occurred had no hormones ever been taken." And another study reported by the Associated Press in December,1994, indicates the way to avoid a broken hip is to pump some iron. The study, conducted at the Jean Mayer Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, found that postmenopausal women who used exercise machines intensively only two times a week for a year built up their bones, increased the size and power of their muscles, and improved their balance. The latest and perhaps most insidious corporate threat to public health is Monsanto's 1994 license to manufacture and literally force farmers to use recombinant bovine growth hormones (rBGH) -- called Posilac -- in cows with the dubious rationale that the cows will produce more milk. Dr. Sam Epstein, professor of occupational and environmental medicine at the University of Illinois, has suggested that rBGH milk would expose infants and young children to levels of IGF-1 substantially above safety margins, for when rBGH milk is pasteurized, IGF-1 levels are increased and the milk becomes more bioactive. In addition, there is a very ominous potential connection to breast cancer, as Epstein pointed out in a February 14,1994 letter to FDA Commissioner David Kessler: "I am writing to express grave concerns about the risk of breast cancer from consumption of BST [(another name for rBGH] milk. These concerns are based on the following scientific considerations: BST administration induces a sustained increase in levels of an uncharacterized insulin growth factor (IGF-1) in milk ... "BST administration induces prominent uptake of IGF-1 by specific receptors in breast epithelium. "IGF-1 induces rapid division and multiplication of cultured human breast epithelial cells. "IGF-1 induces malignant transformation of normal human breast epithelial cells. "IGF-1 is a growth factor for human breast cancer cells maintaining their malignancy, progression, and invasiveness. IGF-1 has been similarly associated with colon cancer ... "The undifferentiated prenatal and infant breast is particularly susceptible to hormonal influences. Such imprinting by IGF-1 may not only constitute a direct breast cancer risk factor, but may also increase the sensitivity of the breast to subsequent unrelated risk factors, such as carcinogenic and estrogenic pesticide contaminants in food and mammography. "On the basis of these data and women's right to know, I urge that minimally you revoke recent FDA restrictions on labeling of BST-free milk. More prudently, I further urge that you revoke approval of BST registration." Another industry involved in this terrible tradeoff is the nuclear industry. According to a 1994 press release from the Cancer Prevention Coalition (CPC), there is a "significant increase in breast cancer mortality rates among U.S. women living near nuclear facilities." This statement is based on a report by Drs. Jay Gould and Ernest Sternglass of a nationwide ecological survey of breast cancer mortality rates in 268 counties within 50 miles of five military facilities and 46 civilian nuclear power plants. From 1950 to 1989, age-adjusted cancer mortality rates rose from 24 to 26.4 deaths per 100,000 women, a ten-percent increase, compared with a four-percent increase for the nation as a whole. Rates of increase around the five military facilities -- Hanford, Washington; Idaho Falls, Idaho; Savannah River, South Carolina; Brookhaven, New York; and Oak Ridge, Tennessee -- were even higher: 41 percent. Even more conclusively, for the seven counties within 40 miles of the Oak Ridge plant, breast cancer mortality rates increased by 39 percent for women living in three downwind counties, but decreased by four percent among women living in four upwind counties. Dr. Gould concluded, "Nuclear emissions appear linked to increased breast cancer deaths among women living near these facilities. The public has not been informed of its risks." The world is still coming to grips with the toxic legacy of the nuclear age. In Russia, the true horror of the Chernobyl explosion is just beginning to be known. Nuclear fallout is now mixed with industrial pollution in the old USSR, and in the absence of any other available land, crops are being planted in irradiated soil. The head of Russia's environmental agency publicly admits this sad legacy, but can only watch in agony as growing numbers of Russian children die from childhood leukemia.