The BPA-Cancer Connection

Bisphenol A or BPA is an industrial chemical that has been used in various plastics and materials since the 1990s. For a more comprehensive description, WebMD describes it as “a chemical that’s sometimes in the hard, clear plastic of food containers and water bottles. BPA is also used in a material called epoxy resin, which lines the inside of some metal food and drink cans. You may also find it in some medical devices, dental sealants, and compact discs.”  

The worry about BPA has been well documented. In 2010, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of BPA on baby bottles, infant formula cans, and sippy cups. Other makers of water bottles and plastic containers also voluntarily stopped using BPA, making the material scarce in the market today.

However, this doesn’t mean that every product in your house is already BPA-free.

The Fuss About BPA

As was mentioned above, BPA is used in polycarbonate plastics that are used for food containers, water bottles, and other forms of consumer goods. Meanwhile, epoxy resins coat the insides of metal products such as bottle tops, food cans, and even some medical devices such as dental sealants.

Given its proximity to food and beverages, you would of course assume that is has been cleared to be used in our day-to-day lives. Unfortunately, multiple researches have indicated that BPA can seep into the beverages or food from the containers, thereby opening a host of health problems. For instance, Mayo Clinic says that BPA can possibly affect “the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children,” and there is even a “possible link between BPA and increased blood pressure.” Other sources believe that there is also a link between the chemical and infertility, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.

In 2014 however, the FDA says that the chemical is “safe at the current levels occurring in foods.” The authority continues to point out that “As part of its premarket review of food packaging materials, FDA’s food contact regulations and food contact notification program assesses the likely migration from the packaging material to assure that any migration to food occurs at safe levels.” This thereby gives consumers the assurance that should there be BPA in their food or beverages, it would be on safe levels that would not be harmful to their health.

Yet in the same breath, the FDA points out that previous studies about the chemical have been misleading, particularly in terms of its risks to humans. After all, many of the earlier research were performed on laboratory mice. However, people are able to absorb BPA faster than mice can, thereby rendering the initial data as irrelevant.

An interesting piece of news, though. Even though the mice data may be considered as irrelevant, it still helped by establishing that the BPA is rendered inactive into the body when it is ingested, in comparison with the research animals that were injected with the chemical.

The Cancer Connection

The chemical BPA also contains small traces of synthetic estrogen. The non-profit organization Breastcancer.org best explains this significance and the connection between BPA and cancer with these words: “Its estrogen-like activity makes it a hormone disrupter, like many other chemicals in plastics. Hormone disruptors can affect how estrogen and other hormones act in the body, by blocking them or mimicking them, which throws off the body’s hormonal balance. Because estrogen can make hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer develop and grow, many women choose to limit their exposure to these chemicals that can act like estrogen.”

However, the Canadian Cancer Society offers these thoughts on BPA: “The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has reviewed the evidence and wasn’t able to determine whether exposure to BPA does or does not cause cancer in humans.” They went on to say that the scientific results of BPA affecting sperm production, fertility, breast tissue development, and changes in prostate gland, were all performed on laboratory animals. There were also few documented studies of the effects of BPA on humans.

Yet it’s also been pointed out that it’s not fair to discount all evidences that BPA can cause cancer.

In an article published in Medscape, Dr. Ana M. Soto believes that there is “enough evidence to conclude that BPA increases the risk for breast and prostate cancer in humans.” She argues that purposely exposing humans to doses of BPA is unethical and waiting for evidence in humans is “criminal.” She adds, “Given the strong evidence in rats and mice, it is very likely that humans experience similar effects, because we share the same hormones and receptors.”

The Truth

As the Medscape article points out, “Sufficient supporting data have been gathered on the deleterious effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals to warrant immediate action to decrease human and wildlife exposure to these agents.”

While the medical community and authorities are still debating about the BPA-Cancer connection, it would be prudent to minimize your exposure to the chemical in the first place. You can limit your exposure to BPA through the following ways:

  • Instead of using plastic utensils, cups, and containers, bring your own ceramic, glass, or steel utensils to the office. This significantly reduces the amount of BPA you are possibly exposed to. You can just wash the utensils after eating.
  • Reduce your canned food intake. Since canned food use epoxy resin, you would be better off preparing your own meals and foregoing canned food for good. Not only will you be eating healthier, you would also be getting rid of BPA exposure too!
  • Be familiar with the Recycling symbols at the bottom of plastic containers. Recycling symbols 2,4,5 are okay to be used, recycling symbol 7 is okay as long as it has a leaf symbol or “PLA,” and 1 should only be used once and never reused. Recycling symbols 3 and 6 must not be used to cook food and to minimize their proximity around food items.
  • Lastly, avoid microwaving food in plastic containers. Microwaving polycarbonate plastics can break down the plastic and allow more BPA to leach into the food.

In conclusion, this is a serious case of prevention is better than cure. While the medical community is still divided about the findings, it would be in your best interest to avoid exposure to BPA in the first place.