Strange New Suspects That Could Be Causing Breast Cancer

Combing your home for breast-cancer causing chemicals could help protect your family.

August 31, 2012

Common toilet cleaners and air fresheners could be fueling breast cancer.

About 12 percent of U.S. women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer at some point in their lives. Increasingly, researchers are pointing out a connection between environmental chemicals and breast cancer. The latest evidence comes as two separate studies find a link between breast cancer and chemicals found in air fresheners and other common household products.


In The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, scientists discovered that phthalates, a class of plasticizing chemicals often used in synthetically fragranced products, help fuel cancer growth in some of the most hard-to-treat types of breast cancer. Long known to act as hormone disruptors and implicated in hormone-sensitive breast cancers, the latest research shows that phthalates also accelerate cancer growth in estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer cells, meaning the plastic chemicals are negatively impacting our bodies in previously unknown ways. In this study, phthalates fueled cancer cells to multiply 3 times faster and spread about 2.5 times faster compared to cells not exposed to phthalates.

Read More: 10 Ways to Prevent Breast Cancer

In another study, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientists found that girls exposed to high levels of dichlorobenzene, a solvent chemical used in some mothballs, toilet deodorizers, and air fresheners, were more likely to have their first period an average of seven months earlier compared to girls barely exposed to the common chemical. Early puberty is a major risk factor for developing breast cancer later in life.

Here are easy ways to cut back on harmful exposures that could increase your risk of developing breast cancer.

Use a British moth-deterring trick. Many mothballs contain the dangerous chemical dichlorobenzene. More and more department stores in the United Kingdom have turned to sandalwood and lavender to keep bugs away, instead of using toxic mothball or flake chemicals. Filling a cotton tea bag (available at many health-food stores) or an old handkerchief with clothing moth-deterring cloves, tansy, or sweet woodruff could also serve as a mothball alternative.

Ditch scented candles. Many scented candles spew some of the same dangerous chemicals that come out of automotive tailpipes. Beyond that, the artificial fragrance chemicals could be laced with hormone-disrupting phthalates.

Find safer personal care products. From nail polish to shampoo, many personal care products are loaded with phthalates and other dangerous chemicals. Visit Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database to rate your current products and to find safer alternatives.

Promote a vinyl-free household. Phthalates are used to soften many plastics, so avoid things like vinyl shower curtains, purses, flooring, and furniture. Instead, opt for natural flooring like sustainable hardwood, bamboo, or cork, and choose shower curtains made of hemp or cotton.

Clean green. Household cleaners could harbor both phthalates and dichlorobenzene, although you'll likely not find it on the label. Regulations are lax when it comes to disclosing cleaning ingredients, so it's best to make your own effective green cleaners using simple ingredients like white vinegar, baking soda, and castile soap. Avoid the Worst Cleaners in America and instead tap these green cleaning recipes for ideas.

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