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Does Nature Nurture Breast Cancer?

In the second part of our series on breast cancer, we look at an issue that has been largely ignored--the possible link between breast cancer and the environment. Health correspondent Dr. Emily Senay explains.

Great strides have been made in treating breast cancer, which kills more than 40,000 women each year in the United States. But with each diagnosis comes the question of how one gets this disease. A majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer are not in the so-called high-risk categories--an alarming fact that continues to raise questions about the role of the environment.

Treatment and early detection technologies continue to improve but little is known about what triggers the disease. Scientific studies have failed to make any conclusive link to factors that could be said to cause breast cancer, but many researchers believe the role of the environment cannot be overlooked. And it is time for the breast cancer movement to shift its focus from treatment to finding the root cause.

Cancer Walk

The walk is about to begin. This walk is just another step in the 10-year journey of "1 in 9"--the Long Island breast cancer action coalition--a grassroots organization that says their polluted environment is to blame for a high rate of cancer.

"People tell you, 'I live on a street with 12 homes and 11 have cancer'--that's pretty frightening," says Geri Barish, a breast cancer survivor. "You look at these wells, you've got three, four, five wells right in the same area right on top of each other. Two of those wells were closed. How come?"

Study Launched

Barish helped launch a study that's looking for answers to these questions. "They are now looking at soil, dust, tissue blood samples," says Barish. "There's certainly enough suspects to say stop using that pesticide or that chemical it's a carcinogen--stop."

But linking chemicals to cancer has not been easy. Studies done so far have not been definitive. According to Dr. Barron Lerner, author of The Breast Cancer Wars, it's time to look harder at the environment.

"It's much harder to study the environment to try to find associations between environmental toxins and breast cancer than it is to enroll women in study where some are taking a pill and some are taking a dummy pill," says Lerner.

Until now, understandably, women have fought for treatments. But the front in the war on breast cancer may be shifting. The question, asks Barish, is, can we expand the breast cancer movement to look at a broader issue like stopping cancer at its root source? "We need for people to know what they live on, who they were, where they came from. We need the public to be responsible enough for the next generation at least."

Mission of 1 in 9

1 in 9--the Long Island breast cancer action coalition--is a grassroots advocacy organization of dedicated volunteers who are working to keep the concerns about the breast cancer epidemi in the forefront. Their mission is to promote awareness of the breast cancer epidemic through education, outreach, advocacy, and direct support of research, which is being done to find the causes of and cures for breast cancer and other related cancers.
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