Is Canned Food Causing Breast Cancer?

Researchers ID a common kitchen chemical as a potent breast cancer promoter.

September 10, 2013

A common food packaging chemical is fueling breast cancer, according to a new report.

What causes breast cancer? Researchers know genetics plays a partial role, but things in our environment could be fueling the disease, too. A new report looking at more than 60 peer-reviewed human and animal studies found the chemical bisphenol A, or BPA, increases the risk for breast and prostate cancers, infertility problems, early puberty, damaged immune systems, neurological problems, metabolic changes that promote obesity, and ailments like type 2 diabetes.


The Breast Cancer Fund report also highlights research that jibes with the idea that very early exposure—a baby's exposure in the mother's womb during the first 11 weeks of pregnancy—can damage development that will only show up years—sometimes decades—later. In fact, pregnant women with higher BPA levels during pregnancy have been shown to have daughters with much more dense breast tissue, one of the leasing risk factors for breast cancer.

Recent studies confirm that BPA eaten or absorbed by the mother readily travels through the placenta and reaches the fetus, with much of the toxic compound reaching the developing baby. Why is this a big deal? Fetal development is especially sensitive to fluctuations of estrogen and estrogenlike compounds like BPA. This barrage of BPA could spark developmental changes in the fetus, ones that lead to permanent reprogramming that could lead to disease in adulthood.

Some of the latest human studies looking at BPA and health impacts suggest that prenatal exposure could lead to abnormal thyroid hormones in baby boys, wheezing in childhood, and hyperactivity, aggression, anxiety, and depression in children.

But with BPA lurking in so many different places, including most canned-food and beverage can linings, polycarbonate plastic, and thermal cash-register receipts, it's hard to dodge being exposed to it. In fact, most Americans have BPA in their body, thanks to everyday exposures.

Mounting pressure to remove BPA from canned baby formula and baby bottles proved successful, but babies still face devastating exposures while still in their mothers' wombs. Just think about it. Every time a woman handles a receipt, she risks absorbing damaging BPA through her skin.

Eating a bowl of canned soup could also expose the very young to the chemical during a highly sensitive stage of development. "Eating food from cans, which are coated with BPA, is a major route of human exposure,” explains Gretchen Lee Salter, senior program and policy manager at the Breast Cancer Fund and coauthor of the report. "To protect every woman who's pregnant or may become pregnant, the only logical solution is to remove BPA from all canned foods."

So, wait…who ever thought BPA was a good idea, anyway? Once you know the history of BPA, it should come as no surprise that it's such a potent endocrine-disrupting chemical. In fact, it was first synthesized in the early 1890s and showed promise as a possible pharmaceutical in the mid-1900s when a chemist found it acts as a powerful synthetic estrogen. In fact, there was a brief time when the pharmaceutical industry planned to use BPA in hormone replacement therapy. (They chose another toxic compound, DES, instead.) Scientists eventually started using BPA in plastics and epoxy resins, and for the first time in history, humans began being exposed to the substance on a regular basis.

Despite the risks, the Food and Drug Administration still allows BPA in canned foods, despite state and federal government efforts to ban it.

Read More: 10 Strange, New Suspects That Could Cause Breast Cancer

The Breast Cancer Fund says it has been pressuring major canned-food companies like Campbell's, Del Monte, Progresso, and Healthy Choice to stop using BPA. Although many companies signaled their intent to stop using BPA, the Breast Cancer Fund says most corporations aren't saying when they'll stop using it, or what the proposed alternative will be. An important factor? A recent study found that a popular BPA alternative, BPS, also shares estrogenic properties and may be no better than BPA with regard to problematic hormonal effects.

"We can't place yet another burden on pregnant women by giving them the nearly impossible job of avoiding BPA," says Salter. "We have to get BPA out of food cans. We have to protect everyone—including the next generation—from the toxic effects of BPA."

Here's how you can help keep BPA out of your body:

Take action. Join the Breast Cancer Fund campaign to get BPA out of food packaging.

Keep away from sneaky sources. Since diet is a huge source of BPA exposure, use these tips to cut down:

• Avoid canned foods and drinks as much as possible, opting for fresh or frozen instead. (Soaking dried beans overnight and cooking them the next day is a great and economical option.)
• When you do find yourself reaching for packaged foods at the supermarket, look for food packaged in glass jars or soups and sauces in aseptic cardboard containers, which are BPA free, the Breast Cancer Fund suggests. (Avoiding BPA in food is especially important during the first trimester of pregnancy.)
• When you go out to eat, ask your server if the chef uses canned ingredients.

Use these other tips to lower your BPA exposure… Avoid eating or drinking out of plastic, particularly some #7 plastics made of polycarbonate. Skip cash-register receipts whenever possible, and if you do handle one, wash your hands as soon as you can. Don't eat without washing your hands after you've handled receipts. Many are loaded with the toxic chemical, which is readily absorbed through your skin.

For more reasons to ditch BPA, read 5 Weird Things BPA Is Doing to Your Body.

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