The number of women being diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK is at an all-time high. It is the most common form of cancer in the country and claims the lives of more than 12,000 people every year. Sadly, Government statistics show that the numbers of women getting the disease has risen year on year since records began. In England, they have increased by 90% since 1971. More alarming still is that the numbers of women under 50 getting the disease is also on the rise.
Why are more and more women getting breast cancer? This is a question that Breast Cancer UK has set out to address. Whilst there is consensus that some breast cancers can be attributed to lifestyle factors, such as alcohol consumption, diet, lack of exercise, or to familial or genetic factors, the fact is that the majority of breast cancers (around 60%) appear to have no attributable cause.
We do know, however, that the hormone, oestrogen, is an important factor in breast cancer development. Women with high levels of naturally occurring oestrogen have over twice the average risk of developing breast cancers. It is also acknowledged that artificial oestrogens, such as HRT and the pill, have a link to the disease.
However, let’s not forget that, in addition to artificial oestrogens, we are exposed to a myriad of other, man-made chemicals on a daily basis, some of which have been found to mimic or disrupt hormones (including oestrogen) and some of which are carcinogenic. Not many people are aware of the fact that these chemicals are used in a wide range of every day products, such as cosmetics, household cleaners, pesticides, plastics and food and drinks packaging.
There’s significant and mounting scientific evidence that hormone disrupting chemicals adversely affect the development of the mammary gland, increase malignancy in cells and disrupt DNA, all of which make the breast more vulnerable to breast cancers .
This is why Breast Cancer UK is calling for better preventative measures to help reduce people’s exposure to carcinogenic and toxic chemicals. Whilst earlier diagnosis and improved treatments have no doubt saved thousands of lives, it’s clear that we need to get much better at preventing the disease in the first place in order to save many thousands more.
To help inform policy makers, we launched our new manifesto, ‘‘Prevention is better than cure: 5 pledges for 2015 and beyond’, at a Reception in the House of Commons last month. The Manifesto outlines 5 areas where political action taken now could help to save lives in the future:
1. Prioritise the primary prevention of breast cancer;
2. Improve the regulation of chemicals;
3. Protect the unborn child from the harmful effects of chemical exposure;
4. Ban the use of Bisphenol A (BPA) in food and drinks packaging;
5. Improve labelling laws and implement the ‘right to know’ about harmful chemicals.
To ensure political action on the chemical causes of breast cancer, we need many more MPs, like John, to support our cause. To find out more or help us prevent breast cancer by raising this issue with your own MP, please take a moment to visit our webpage www.breastcanceruk.org.uk. Together, we can help stop breast cancer before it starts.
Lynn Ladbrook is Chief Executive at Breast Cancer UK. For more information and to view Breast Cancer UK’s Manifesto visit www.breastcanceruk.org.uk or email [email protected].