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Breast Cancer Cluster Linked to Crop Chemicals

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Monash University PhD student Dr. Narges Khanjani has revealed a possible link between the use of organochlorine pesticides and breast cancer in Victoria's north-east. Her study shows up to 48,000 women in the Ovens and Murray Shire could have been exposed to the chemicals which were mainly used in the production of tobacco crops. "Because this is the only region in Victoria to grow tobacco, the number of women possibly exposed is much higher here than anywhere else in the state," Dr. Khanjani said.

"Although women traditionally don't work in the fififi elds, they have been exposed to the chemicals which have contaminated the food chain and have been unknowingly consumed in produce such as meat, milk and eggs. Once organochlorines are absorbed into the body they are not easily secreted or broken down and are stored in fat tissue such as breast fat."

The study was based on samples of contaminated breast milk collected in the 1990's by Associate Professor Malcolm Sim from Monash University's Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine and data provided by the Cancer Council of Victoria. "We used the 800 milk samples to identify areas of high contamination in Victoria and compared it to the cancer data. We found that the Ovens and Murray Shire was the most highly contaminated region as it showed the highest incidences of breast cancer compared with any other area in Victoria," Dr. Khanjani said.

Most organochlorines were phased out in the late 1980's and early 1990's but some chemicals in this group including Atrazine and Triazine are still used today. "Chemicals like DDT have a half life of about 10 years so we would expect to see a reduction in the levels of exposure in the north-east over time and young people won't have the same degree of exposure to these organochlorines," Dr. Khanjani said. For further information contact Ms. Ingrid Sanders in Media Communications on +61 3 9905 9201.

Similar reports have come from another region of Australia, Tasmania, and the Australian Medical Association's (AMA) public health committee is currently considering a report from its Tasmanian branch detailing a possible link between chemical exposure and cancer rates. The report reveals a sixfold increase in endocrine cancer since 1995 and a sharp increase in cancer of the digestive tract over the past fifififi ve years. (ABC News)

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