Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the United States. While men have been diagnosed with this cancer, women are 100 times more likely to develop breast cancer over men.
Breast cancer is a type of cancer that forms in tissues of the breast.  It usually originates in the ducts (tubes that carry milk to the nipple) but it can also form in the lobules, the glands that produce milk. Most breast lumps are benign (not cancerous), however some may need to be sampled under a microscope to make certain that they are not cancer.
Certain women are at higher risks of getting breast cancer than others. Age, family history and genetic makeup are not things that can be altered; however there are external risk factors that can be controlled. These risks include:

  • Drinking more than two alcoholic beverages per day
  • Bearing children after the age of 30 (or never having children at all)
  • Taking the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES) to prevent miscarriages
  • Obesity (thought to trigger excess estrogen production)
  • Receiving hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
  • Receiving radiation therapy to the chest

Asbestos and Breast Cancer

Environmental factors may play a role in breast cancer as well. The correlation between breast cancer and mesothelioma is uncertain. Conversely, studies have shown a link to higher rates of breast cancer in women that were exposed to environmental toxin asbestos. There is not enough evidence to indicate that this is a causal relationship, but it could suggest that long-term asbestos exposure may be associated with higher risks of breast cancer.
A study of British factory workers who were diagnosed with cancer found a slight increase in breast cancer diagnoses in female factory workers who were exposed to asbestos in the workforce for two or more years. Another British study examined 178 females for the presence of asbestos. The fiber was prevalent in the lungs of 30 percent of all women in the study, yet the bulk of the females found with asbestos were found in the subgroup of women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Of the 82 women with breast cancer, 38 were found to have asbestos in their lungs.

The second study suggests that asbestos fibers may have pierced the lungs and passed through the muscles covering the chest wall, eventually reaching the breast tissue. While there is not enough evidence to support the implication, there is a potential link between breast cancer and asbestos exposure.
References:

  • Wagner, J. “Mortality from all cancers of asbestos factory workers in east London 1933-80.” Pub Med n. pag. Web. 11 Apr 2011. Retrieved by Pub Med.
  • American Cancer Society