Breast cancer cocktail targeted

Banning the cocktail of chemicals believed to cause breast cancer is a long way off, but scientists are hoping that raising awareness may lead to the public taking matters into their own hands.

A seminar on the effect the environment can have on the deadly disease was held in Auckland yesterday by the Breast Cancer Network, which brought in three world-leading scientists as part of their prevention campaign.

The particular focus was the role of “endocrine disrupting chemicals” - which can be found in anything from plastic to dental fillings.

Professor Ian Shaw, a toxicologist from Canterbury University, explained that the chemicals had a similar molecular structure to the female hormone oestrogen, and could fool the body into believing it was reacting to a natural substance.

The biggest worry in terms of breast cancer was that in binding to the oestrogen, the chemicals could cause the cells to grow - the opposite of what we want cancer to do.

“It's a science advanced enough that it's widely accepted but extremely difficult to do anything about,” Shaw said.

“Because we can't just say ‘avoid the environment'."

Because the chemicals had an “additive” effect it made them extremely difficult to single out and regulate, he said.

“Each on their own has no measurable effect but the mixture does,” Shaw said.

“So you can't ban one because the company then would sue the regulatory authority because you don't have evidence it was that one causing the trouble.”

The only country to ban one of the chemicals so far - named Bisphenol-A - was Canada, which banned it in babies' bottles.

New Zealand was yet to get to that stage, but the public meeting was a good start, and a brave move by the Breast Cancer Network, Shaw said.

“My mum died of breast cancer and I know that any woman with breast cancer needs support.

"But the network are taking a very long term approach by looking at the causes of the disease, and it's to be commended.”

The panel also included Professor Charlotte Paul of the University of Otago, and Dr Barbara Cohn of the Public Health Institute in California, via video link.

Each year, more than 2500 New Zealand women receive the news that they have breast cancer.

Just under one-quarter of them will die from the disease.

Sunday Star Times