(Beyond Pesticides, January 29, 2020) A study of male breast cancer (MBC) in Scotland reports an alarming, increasing trend of this rare disease – especially in agricultural areas. While only accounting for 1% of diagnosed breast cancer, MBC forms in the breast tissue of men and is often fatal because of delayed diagnosis and lack of research on male-specific treatment. The authors point to risk factors that include increased exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, such as pesticides, and a need for further study.
Researchers analyzed data from the Information Services Scotland database spanning from 1992-2017. Results showed that incidence of breast cancer in men rose with age, and that the total number and age-adjusted incidence of MBC increased in the last 25 years. Overall, the incidence rose by 38.5%. There was a total of 558 diagnoses in Scotland in the entire period. The trend is clearest in certain regions, including the North of Scotland and some rural areas.
“Within the confines of this observational study, reasons for these regional differences are difficult to reconcile, but potential explanations are offered,” the authors write, “Exposure to environmental compounds that mimic oestrogens (so-called Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals; (EDCs)) might be exacerbated in areas of higher agricultural activity, with potential adverse health consequences. With lifetime exposure to oestrogen a well-established risk factor for breast cancer, it is reasonable to speculate that EDCs may also contribute to this.”
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can, even at low exposure levels, disrupt normal hormonal (endocrine) function. EDCs include many pesticides, exposures to which have been linked to infertility and other reproductive disorders, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and early puberty, as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and childhood and adult cancers.
“There has been pretty much a doubling of the incidence over the 25-year period,” Valerie Speirs, PhD, professor of molecular oncology at Aberdeen University, told the Sunday Post, “Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders are areas associated with farming and perhaps the pesticides might be an issue. Some of the pesticides used in agricultural industry may well mimic the effects of some of the hormones that are associated with increased breast cancer risk, and that may be part of the reason we are seeing higher numbers. Endocrine-disrupting agents may impact not just on cancer, but other aspects of health too.”
Kotryna Temcinaite, PhD, research communications manager at the charity Breast Cancer Now, said, “Our Male Breast Cancer Study is now trying to pinpoint the genetic, environmental and lifestyle causes of breast cancer in men, which could enable us to identify those who are at greater risk and what could be done to help lower the chances of developing the disease.”
EDCs represent an under-researched and under-regulated threat to human health. Beyond Pesticides wrote on the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s stalled analysis of the risk these chemicals pose, “A persistent critique of EPA’s toxicological assumptions has to do with the “dose makes the poison” concept that underlies conventional toxicology. In fact, researchers have discovered that this concept—that the more exposure, the more extreme the impacts—is not consistently the case across exposures to chemical compounds such as pesticides. Additionally, even very low-level exposures (aka “doses”) can, in some instances, cause more extreme health impacts.”
A 2017 European study shows that costs of disease burden and health care related to chemical environmental exposures, writ large, may constitute a figure somewhere north of 10% of global gross domestic product (GDP). Advocates say that figure should shock everyone, motivate policymakers to become much more proactive on the chemical regulatory front, and move the public to help raise the alarm on the risks of the use of pesticides and other dangerous chemicals.
Read more from Beyond Pesticides about endocrine disrupting pesticides and chemicals, and ways to protect people from exposures, including eating organically and advocating for better regulatory policies through Beyond Pesticides’ Action of the Week.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.