You wouldn't take a bath in paint-thinner or breathe gas fumes for fun, but small "everyday" doses aren't OK either. A big new report on breast cancer and environmental toxins has terrific advice. You didn't get to read all 300 pages? We YOU Docs dug in for you. Here's the key stuff on protecting you and yours from environmental chemicals that promote breast cancer.
The news must have been tough reading for some reporters on deadline, because plenty of media accounts got this important story wrong, concluding, "It's too soon to tell." It's not.
The Institute of Medicine's concise message: "Limit or eliminate your exposure to chemicals that are plausible contributors to breast cancer risk."
Sure, there's a lot we don't know yet. Cancer can take decades to develop, and over decades, we're all exposed to thousands of compounds. Connecting the dots isn't easy. But here's what we do know:
--About 34,000 cancer deaths a year are due to environmental pollutants.
--The report found the strongest evidence for a) secondhand smoke; b) chemicals in gas fumes, car exhaust and some work environments; and c) solvents in dry cleaning, paint and paint thinners.
--Hormone-like chemicals in plastics, pesticides and elsewhere could also be a problem.
Don't shrug off these warnings. Instead, take these five steps. They'll lower your exposure to many toxins that threaten breasts most.
1 Don't breathe in this gunk: Tobacco smoke, gasoline fumes, car exhaust. They have the strongest links to breast cancer risk. So steer totally clear of other people's tobacco smoke. Avoid inhaling gas fumes when you fill up at the pump. Open garage or storage shed doors for a few minutes before going in. Fumes build up in closed spaces where you keep cars, mowers, blowers and other gas-powered equipment. Avoid vehicle exhaust.
2 Keep and try to use this stuff outside: Organic solvents in paints, paint strippers, glues. Air out fresh dry-cleaning in the garage or on a porch before bringing it in. Try to find a "green" dry cleaner who doesn't use trichloroethylene or perchloroethylene; both solvents are health worries. If solvents are reported in your local water supply, add a carbon filter to your taps.
3 Sidestep hormone disturbers. The most famous one, BPA, is linked to a protein found in up to 30 percent of women with breast cancer. Fortunately, BPA has been removed from virtually all hard plastic bottles, glasses and pitchers, but most tinned foods still come in cans lined with BPA-laced material (it excels at blocking spoilage and can contaminates). Also, most thermal receipts from places like fast-food restaurants and gas stations are BPA-laden. No widely available substitute has been found for can liners or receipts, but the hunt is on. Meanwhile, try to buy fresh or frozen foods, look for BPA-free cans, about 20 percent are (usually from organic lines), and don't take thermal receipts you don't need. If you do, stash 'em, and wash your hands before touching food.
4 Be choosy about personal-care and household products. Choose nontoxic cleaners. The Green Seal is one good guide (www.greenseal.org); try baking soda and vinegar, too. There's plenty of carcinogen controversy about certain chemicals in cosmetics, soaps, shampoos and more. The Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org) has a cosmetics database of worry-free products.
5 Start early. Take steps 1-4 when you're conceiving, breast-feeding and raising kids to protect young tissue during vulnerable development periods.
It's not just toxins. To really cut breast cancer risk, keep your weight healthy and your waist under 33 inches. Stay active.
Stick to one alcoholic drink daily; if you're at above-average risk, don't drink alcohol.
Consider hormone replacement therapy for tough menopausal symptoms IF you're not at extra risk for breast cancer and heart disease.
We believe taking bioidentical estrogen, micronized progesterone and two low-dose aspirin daily both cools hot flashes and lowers breast cancer odds.
Even without menopausal issues, talk to your doc about low-dose aspirin to counter breast cancer, colon cancer and stroke. Take aspirin with half a glass of warm water before and after. Got it?!