More than 35 Great Neck and Huntington high school students joined environmental experts and local health advocates in the inaugural New York conference on a national study gauging the likelihood of environmental toxins contributing to women developing breast cancer.
Dozens of attendees gathered Nov. 18 at the Roosevelt Hotel to learn from a panel of researchers who broke down the science behind the Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Program (BCERP), a five-year national study on the impact of pre-natal-to-adult environmental exposures that may predispose a woman to breast cancer. Researchers discussed how exposure to certain chemicals combined with a fatty diet during a woman’s developing years, or “Windows of Susceptibility,” increases their cancer risk.
“Body weight is still the main driver in the puberty clock, but not the only one,” said Dr. Frank Biro of the University of Cincinnati, a principle investigator in BCERP. “There are lots of others who believe that chemicals are major cause. I clearly believe that they are contributing.”
BCERP is a continuation of a prior seven-year project in which researchers studied the blood work and urine samples of six-to-eight-year-old girls correlated with chemical exposure and diet. The same girls now in the BCERP project are teenagers and will be studied further.
Toxins that have been linked to the disease include heavy metals, some solvents and endocrine disrupting compounds found in everyday consumer products. Researchers are studying the hormonal effects of the endocrine disrupting chemicals bisphenol A (BPA), which is found in certain plastics and children’s products. BPA was recently banned in New York State.
Other toxins researchers are concerned about include: Parabens, which found in cosmetics; Phthalates, found in both cosmetics and certain plastics; And brominated flame retardants (PBDEs), found in the upholstery of furniture manufactured before 2005 and in certain electronics.
Of the 84,000 chemicals found in the environment, only 200 of them have been tested for their toxicity, and only five have been banned since the 1970s. Forty one percent of Americans have been diagnosed with some type of cancer.
Such chemicals, researchers believe, have caused girls to reach puberty as young as seven years old, which prompted researchers to offer a word to the wise for the students in attendance: Data suggests that girls with relatively low-fat, high fiber diets tend to reach puberty later, lowering their cancer risk.
The Long Island-based advocates who helped organize the conference were awarded five-year grants by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to be community partners with New York City-based researchers in BCERP.
Laura Weinberg of the Great Neck Breast Cancer Coalition and Karen Miller of the Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition, Inc., will create an outreach program for Dr. Susan Teitelbaum and Dr. Jia Chen at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, who are studying the effects of parabens and triclosan, which is found in anti-bacterial soaps and cosmetics. The advocates will also represent the community perspective in the interpretation of study results.
Weinberg and Miller were credited with organizing the conference along with Kaya Balke of the University of California, San Francisco.
For more information, visit: www.bcerp.org; BCERC: www.bcerc.org; Great Neck Breast Cancer Coalition: www.greatneckbcc.org; Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition: www.hbcac.org