5&5: News and science highlights from December 2011

January 11, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Posted in News and Science Bulletins | Leave a comment

View our full archive of over 1500 news stories and studies at: http://delicious.com/contaminanthealthscience


Metastatic Breast Cancer in Pleural Fluid. Picture: Flickr / Ed Uthman

What role does the environment play in cancer risk? In December, two reports were published on the effect which environmental and lifestyle factors might have on overall risk of cancer and on breast cancer specifically. The complexity of the issues presented a stern challenge to media coverage; here we have collated the best articles and commentary.

7 Foods You Should Never Eat. Fox News asks food scientists about what they would completely avoid in their diet. An eye-opening article which is nowhere near as hysterical as it sounds.

Runaway Growth: Forty years into the “War on Cancer,” casualties are mounting. “Most reports on the upcoming 40th anniversary of the War on Cancer will counter disappointment that cancer remains uncured with tidings of new gene-based therapies. You’re unlikely to hear that you have more chance of getting cancer than when the War on Cancer began.” One article in an excellent 4-part series explaining many of the issues facing those concerned with cancer prevention. Other articles are:

  • Soft-Pedalling Prevention. “It’s hard to believe we’d need to argue that preventing illness is preferable to trying to cure it. It’s as if we’d abandoned sewage-treatment systems because we have antibiotics for cholera.”
  • Gauging the danger posed by carcinogens. “Our environmental regulatory system requires no rigorous toxicological testing of chemicals [before] marketing them. It promulgates legal limits on [individual] chemical releases, largely overlooking that we are all exposed to trace amounts of many contaminants. It is still no one’s job to make sure that the total burden of toxic exposures is not too much for any one of us.”
  • Coming Clean: Can we solve the problem of carcinogens in the environment? With cancer now 50 percent more common than when President Nixon launched the US “war on cancer” in 1971, there’s mounting evidence of how such chemicals affect health — and a few ideas what to do about it.

US Tox21 to begin screening 10,000 chemicals. The US NIEHS has formally begun testing the toxicity of 10,000 compounds under its revolutionary ToxCast/Tox21 program, a high-speed robotic screening system. The compounds include consumer products, food additives and industrial chemicals, and will also test mixture toxicity.

Relative Risk, One Result at a Time. American Scientist neatly summarises some of the emerging issues around chemical pollution, including mixture effects, endocrine disruption and the possibility that even very low doses of substances might cause harm.


Immunotoxicity of Perfluorinated Compounds: Recent Developments. Review finding that “risk of immune effects for humans and wildlife exposed to PFCs cannot be discounted, especially when bioaccumulation and exposure to multiple PFCs are considered”.

Visual of the Month: Application of computational systems biology to explore environmental toxicity hazards. Disease–chemical associations network, from a DDT-based case-study investigating the usefulness of computational systems biology in ascertaining links between exposure to an environmental pollutant and adverse health effects.

“The circles represent diseases, with colors representing phenotype categories: red, reproductive disorders; blue, neurodevelopmental-related diseases; green, cancers; gray, other diseases. Rectangles represent the three chemicals studied. The heavier the weight of the connecting lines, the greater the number of proteins linking a chemical to a disease.” (Adouze & Grandjean, 2011) Click to enlarge.

Prenatal Exposure to PCBs and DDE and Birth Weight: A Meta-analysis within 12 European Birth Cohorts. The results of this analysis of grouped data suggest that current exposures to PCBs – while generally lower than 40 years ago – are still harmful to the growing fetus. EHN provides a synopsis here.

Dioxin and polychlorinated biphenyl concentrations in mother’s serum and the timing of pubertal onset in sons. This epidemiological study finds an association between maternal PCB serum concentrations and acceleration in some, but not all, measures of pubertal onset. Animal studies have previously demonstrated that timing of pubertal onset can be altered by prenatal exposure to dioxins and PCBs.

Cancer from foetal exposure to a carcinogen depends on the size and timing of the dose. Animal study finding that the same carcinogen will cause different cancers later in life, depending on the stage of pregnancy when the foetus is exposed and how big the dose is. Synopsis at ScienceDaily.

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