Friday, July 20, 2007

Everything Gives You Cancer

Here's something new to worry about: the possible link between exposure to artificial light and cancer. During the course of one of the most significant womens' health studies every conducted, now known as the Nurses' Health Study, researchers noticed an unusual factor which seemed to correlate with higher rates of breast cancer.

Several years later, members of Willett's team reported that women who frequently work night shifts seem predisposed to develop breast cancer.

It was just as Stevens had suspected. He had hypothesized that nighttime illumination, by interrupting the body's mainly nocturnal production of the hormone melatonin, might increase the risk of breast cancer. Animal experiments and surveys of people over the past 2 decades supported that hypothesis without proving it, says Stevens, currently at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington.

Breast cancer rates in industrialized countries are significantly higher than those in undeveloped countries. Of course, exposure to environmental toxins and other factors could be at play. But, the melatonin theory is intriguing.

And sleep itself is not a factor, but actual hours spent in darkness.

"Blind women, by contrast, have unusually low rates of breast cancer and high average melatonin concentrations."

Whole article here:

Bright Lights, Big Cancer. ScienceNews Online. Jan 7, 2006.

I guess all women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer go through a period of being angry about their previous treatment by the health profession. I am no exception. I am over 40, childless, and (ahem) have been known to have two or more alcoholic beverages per day, all factors which are associated with a greater chance of getting breast cancer. My youngish ob/gyn, Dr. CB, for whom I have less affection on a daily basis, always seemed accusatory as she recited them. Perhaps she spoke blandly, but I always could hear the meta message: "If you would just have some babies and stop boozing it up, like the mother nature intended..." Perhaps it was all the baby magazines in her office, as if the only point of maintaining my reproductory health was to make one of those possible. Since there are men reading this, I'll spare you some more graphic comments which also led me to believe that she may have considered my existence as a woman superfluous.

Looking at the research, one can see that all the above factors do have a similar result: denser breast tissue. Having babies, breast-feeding them, and (for some reason) minimal alcohol intake all serve to reduce breast tissue density. Every time I've had a mammogram in the last ten years, it's always been the same thing: Oh, we couldn't get good pictures, so now we have to give you an ultrasound. Each time, I've been needlessly exposed to radiation which could only serve to put me at higher risk, while having to wait to get a diagnostic procedure which could actually take a picture of any potential tumors. If any women out there have been getting the same message about breast tissue density, I suggest trying to get an order for an ultrasound right away.

And if you have the name of a good ob/gyn who actually is interested in women's health, as opposed to catching babies, I'd much appreciate the referral.

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