More money for breast cancer research

November 08, 1999

Here is an edited excerpt of an editorial from the St. Louis Post Dispatch, which was published Wednesday.

IN JUST the past 50 years, the incidence of breast cancer in the United States has more than doubled and nobody knows why. This scourge strikes one of nine American women; one of seven in higher socioeconomic groups. And nobody knows why. Some 43,000 women will die from the disease this year.

The theory is, there is something about a successful, industrialized society that is massacring women by the tens of thousands, with the highly educated hit more often. It is doubtful this disease springs from between the pages of college textbooks. Hereditary breast cancer is believed to account for 10 percent of cases.

So where is it coming from? Delayed childbirth? The pill? A meaty, high-fat diet? Alcohol? Do the affluent simply detect and report more cases? All of these are considered possible explanations.

Taking the mystery a step further, a recently released controversial study questioned whether women in the affluent Boston suburb of Newton have a 13-percent higher rate of breast cancer because, in comparison with other Massachusetts women, they reported more use of pesticides, vaginal spermicides and professional lawn and dry cleaning services.

Research has shown that some 100 chemicals in current use cause mammary gland tumors in animals. Some environmental chemicals mimic the female hormone estrogen, which often causes rapid growth of breast cancer cells. Just 2.4 percent of the National Institutes of Health's $15 billion budget went toward research on environmental health factors.

So a coalition of women's groups, health advocates and lawmakers has announced a new initiative urging public officials to devote more government dollars to examining the relationship between environmental chemicals and the escalating rate of breast cancer. We join these groups in encouraging that effort.

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