Study links breast cancer to farm work

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Think that has nothing to do with the environment? Guess again. A new study of women in Windsor, Ontario, found that those who have worked on a farm are 2.8 times more likely to develop breast cancer than those who haven’t. The research was published yesterday in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. “If you were going to hypothesize about the No. 1 most likely cause of this elevated risk, I think you’d have to look at the whole chemical exposure that exists on farms,” said lead author James Brophy, rather diplomatically. He implicated diesel fumes, antibiotics, growth hormones, and, of course, pesticides, many of which can block normal functioning of hormones like estrogen. Interestingly, for women who worked in agriculture and then moved on to the auto industry, the cancer likelihood was bumped from 2.8 to four times. Plenty of other researchers are also studying the possibility that breast cancer is tied to environmental pollution, as Francesca Lyman reports in the latest issue of Ms. Magazine.