Even with all the early detection campaigns and fundraisers surrounding breast cancer issues, scientists and physicians still don’t definitively understand what causes it. While the evidence suggests that a lack of exercise and unhealthy dietary habits play a part in the disease, there have been very few studies carried out that consider possible environmental factors such as industrial chemicals and water pollution, an oversight that many in the medical research community feel should be corrected.
Silent Spring Institute’s Research
Researchers at the Silent Spring Institute (a Boston based nonprofit) are dedicated to studying possible links between the environment and breast cancer and in 2010 they published a study regarding the possible link between breast cancer, household cleaning products, and air fresheners in the Journal of Environmental Health.
The study’s authors used data that they collected from research that expanded from 1988 to 1995 of women living in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The study group included 721 women who didn’t have breast cancer and 787 that had been diagnosed with the disease. All the women involved in the study were asked standard lifestyle questions, including whether there was a family history of breast cancer, if the participants followed a healthy diet, exercised and their socioeconomic status was also considered. Last but certainly not least, the women were also questioned about the cleaning products they used, including oven and surface cleaners, mold and mildew products and both spray and solid air fresheners.
The results of the study found that breast cancer was twice as prevalent in women who reported that they used high amounts of all of the cleaning products studied, compared to women who reported that they didn’t use significant amounts. Women who documented using mold and mildew cleaners (especially if they contained bleach) and air freshener products (solid) appeared to be at a higher risk of having breast cancer. Oven and surface cleaners, on the other hand, didn’t seem to increase the risk significantly.
What The Findings Mean
The primary reason for the study was to prove that the chemicals found in cleaning products, many that aren’t tested for safety, call for much more detailed scrutiny. According to the director of Silent Spring Institute, Julia Brody, Ph.D., the study was the first to consider the link between these potentially dangerous chemicals and breast cancer. The women in the study were also asked if they believed that chemicals could contribute to cancer and the ones in the study group who had breast cancer reported high usage levels of chemical-laden cleaning product.
According to Brody, the primary reason the institute decided to take a closer look at cleaning products was because of strong laboratory evidence that exhibited that several endocrine disrupting compounds, aka EDC, found in cleaning products actually mimic estrogen (estrogen is known as a breast cancer risk factor) and have in some instances led to the proliferation of breast cancer cells. Air fresheners also contain a variety of the same compounds, including synthetic phthalates and musks. Triclosan, also an EDC, in mold and mildew cleaners is also a primary ingredient in antibacterial cleaning products, as are petroleum-based surfactants that help household cleaners penetrate dirt and grime.
According to the Breakthrough Breast Cancer and Breast Cancer Research UK, the same research groups that campaigned against confirmed carcinogens like cigarette smoke, suggested that the conclusions of Brody’s study couldn’t be confirmed because it dealt with recall bias, meaning that the study group asked women who had breast cancer to remember how often they actually used cleaning products over a lengthy time period, prior to getting cancer. Clare Dimmer of the Breast Cancer UK group states that while they’ll need to wait for more research to be performed regarding the connection between household cleaner’s and breast cancer, it made sense that women take a precautionary approach and assess the levels of potentially hazardous chemical ingredients in the cleaning products and air fresheners that they use.
Bottom line, most people use potentially hazardous cleaning products every day but it’s easily avoidable. As a matter of fact, you can learn to make your own non-toxic and safe household cleaners using safe alternatives that include lemon juice, vinegar, and baking soda. You can also purchase a variety of environmentally friendly, non-toxic cleaning products. It’s always better to be safe than sorry and this old adage also pertains to choosing safe and natural household cleaning products to reduce your risks of getting breast cancer.