Eugene Weekly : News : 7.10.08

Cancer and Chemicals
Lane County’s links between breast cancer and pesticide spray
by Camilla Mortensen

Each week in Oregon, 47 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, and 10 will die from the disease, according the American Cancer Society. Oregon and Washington have the highest breast cancer rates in the country, and Ingrid Edstrom thinks she knows why. “I’m absolutely convinced it’s linked to herbicide spraying,” she says. 

Using infrared technology, Edstrom, a nurse practitioner with a master’s in health education, has been studying the changes in women’s breasts that occur after pesticide exposure. From the Round-Up and other herbicides people spray in gardens to the chemicals sprayed by timber companies and grass seed growers, women are exposed to pesticides every day throughout the Northwest.

The women Edstrom has scanned in her clinical study include a 34-year-old Browns-ville woman who lives on a farm surrounded by pesticide sprays. The woman’s breasts show large vessels leading to a breast mass. A 49-year-old woman exposed to pesticides through an aerial timber spray shows abnormal vascular patterns, not cancer yet, but Edstrom says they are a sign of possible cancer to

Many pesticides — as well as phthalates, which make plastics flexible, and parabens, preservatives found in most shampoos and lotions — contain estrogen mimickers called “xenoestrogens,” Edstrom says. An herbicide called 2,4-D, which shows up regularly in the schedule of pesticides being sprayed in Lane County provided to EW each week by Forestland Dwellers, acts as a xenoestrogen, a kind of endocrine disruptor. “Estrogen receptors are fatbound,” says Edstrom. So the breasts, which contain fatty tissue, pick up more xenoestrogens. These foreign estrogens then are picked up by the estrogen receptors instead of the natural hormone.

Though the links between xenoestrogens and breast cancer are still being debated, scientists have shown links between endocrine disruptors and declining fish, bird and even alligator health, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Edstrom uses breast thermography to detect early signs of breast cancer. Scans from her camera, IRIS (Infrared Imaging System), pick up on areas of heat and inflammation and show if blood vessels have become engorged as they begin to feed a problem area. 

Infrared images can potentially pick up on inflammatory changes in a woman’s breast tissue months to years before a lump is large enough to be detected by hand or a conventional mammogram, Edstrom says. Edstrom became interested in thermal imaging after an infrared scan revealed hardening tissue in her own breast. Through nutrition and lifestyle changes, she says she was able to reverse that process. 

In the scans she has been doing of women around Lane County, Edstrom began to notice a correlation between women with engorged vessels and inflammation in their breasts and those women’s exposure to pesticides. 

Breast cancer is caused by genetics in only 10 to 15 percent of cases; 85 to 95 percent of your breast cancer risk is related to your environment, diet, hormones and lifestyle, Edstrom says, citing American Cancer Society statistics.

The herbicides approved for use in Lane County, from Oust to Garlon 3A to Habitat, all have chemicals that are estrogen mimickers, Edstrom says. She points to studies that show that workers exposed to pesticides in occupations like logging, grass seed growing, forest and soils conservation and farming show higher serum dioxide levels than Vietnam veterans. Many Vietnam veterans were exposed to Agent Orange, a powerful herbicide that contained 2,4-D.

Edstrom says now is the time to find ways to  prevent breast cancer rather than only to search for the cure. When Edstrom’s infrared camera shows early signs of a problem, she says, women are actually “empowered — they can start doing something.” Prevention consists of reducing stress, eating organic food and avoiding parabens and plastics. It also means avoiding exposure to pesticides. “What I really want to see,” she says, “is the herbicide spraying stopped.”

As she continues her study of Oregon women exposed to pesticides, Edstrom says, “What I would really like to do is start finding some of the little kids who have been sprayed; I would see them for free.” She would compare those children, she says, to non-pesticide-exposed, organic-food-eating kids to prove her theory of the links between cancer and pesticide exposure as well as help the families prevent future cancers.

For more information on Ingrid Edstrom and breast thermal imaging as well as her proactive breast wellness program, go to

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