For all the attention given the subject, little is known about the causes of breast cancer. But a new study to be published in the journal Archives of Environmental Health in April may hold a startling clue. The article takes issue with the widely held belief that high-fat diets contribute to increasing breast cancer in U.S. women. The authors, five scientists working at universities and hospitals around the country, suggest for the first time that pesticides and chemicals in fatty foods--not the fat itself--may be the real culprit.
The researchers found that the tissues of women with breast cancer showed concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and certain hydrocarbon-based pesticides 50% to 60% higher than normal. PCBs, which are soluble in animal fat, are prevalent throughout the food chain because of their wide use. Before a ban, PCBs were used extensively for insulation and lubrication in products found in the home and in factories and offices.
The findings could be the missing link in understanding the growing incidence of breast cancer. As many as one in four women may be at risk, believes Dr. Frank Falck Jr. of the University of Michigan, one of the authors. He thinks the study "should generate a national debate." Sure to figure in the controversy: Monsanto, the sole U.S. producer until it stopped making PCBs in 1977, and Westinghouse and General Electric, the largest users.