A link between tumors and early exposure to DDT, a promising new use for an old drug, and a high tech cancer-detecting bra are just some of the recent breast cancer breakthroughs being reported in news:
A new study, reported in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, has found a cohesive link between breast cancer and childhood exposure to the pesticide DDT. The small study of bay area women conducted by researches from UC Berkeley, found that it wasn’t just exposure, but the age that exposure occurred that was critical. Previous studies have failed to find a link, but these generally measured the levels of DDT in women when cancer was found, which was often decades after exposure occurred, since the pesticide was banned in 1972. What makes this UC Berkeley study unique is that fact that they were able to test blood originally collected between 1959 and 1967, when the women featured in the study gave birth at Oakland area Kaiser Permanente hospitals. This study found that the top third of women whose blood contained the most DDT were five times more likely to develop cancer. None of the women lived on farms, so their exposure came through an urban lifestyle similar to the majority of Americans.
Meanwhile scientists from the University of Manchester in England have found that a drug first used on Alzheimer’s patients offers promise for breast cancer sufferers. The drug, a gamma secretase inhibitor, has been found to attack the Notch gene, which is known to stimulate growth in a wide range of cancers, including leukemia and breast tumors. The team hopes that the drug will be used to prevent cancer from reoccurring, which happens in up to a third of women who initially appear to have been treated successfully.
Also in England, a group at The University of Bolton's Centre for Research and Innovation (CMRI) have developed a Smart Bra that can detect breast cancer in its early stages before a tumor has had a chance to develop and spread. The bra works by using a microwave antenna system, which picks up abnormal changes in the temperature of breast tissue, which occurs as a result pre-cancerous and cancerous growth due to a corresponding increase in metabolic and vascular activity. Data collected is then transmitted to a controller unit, which sets off an alarm if a problem is detected. In addition, it is also hoped the device will be used to monitor the effectiveness of treatment for those already suffering from the disease. The lifesaving bra is expected to go into production within the next two years and will cost between $40 and $60 more than more low tech apparel.
Prevention is always better than a cure however, with experts from Cancer Research UK claiming that one in ten cases of breast cancer could be prevented by adopting a cancer-smart lifestyle, which includes keeping fit, staying trim, drinking less, reducing long-term use of hormone replacement therapy drugs and increasing breast feeding rates.
And after a study at Keel University found that aluminum salts used in many antiperspirants can leach into breast tissue,” Professor Robert Thomas suggests women think twice before routinely using under-arm deodorants in an article he wrote in September for the UK’s Daily Mail. This follows an earlier study by the University of Reading, which found that the aluminum compounds mimic oestrogen in the body, and that preservatives used in deodorants were also found in many breast cancers. Though he admits the evidence is not yet conclusive, Thomas suggests that: “giving up using deodorant could be as effective in reducing cancer risk as a diet rich in disease-preventing antioxidants. This might sound surprising,” he continues, “as we know fruit and vegetables can help keep cancer at bay. But the irony is that women, who are particularly diligent about eating enough fruit and veg, then cover their armpits every day with chemicals that mimic oestrogen, the cancer-promoting hormone.” For those worried about the whiff, Thomas suggests at the very least cutting down use, alternating brands to limit exposure to any one combination of chemicals, and using a natural or crystal alternative.