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LOWELL ߝ Chancellor Marty Meehan of the University of Massachusetts Lowell announced Wednesday, Oct. 31 that $250,000 in state funds for an initiative to research the links between breast cancer and environmental exposures. UMass Lowell is partnering with the Silent Spring Institute and the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition.
“We know that Massachusetts has one of the five highest incidence rates of breast cancer in the nation,” said Meehan. “We also know that some communities have rates well above the state average, including Westford and Andover. This project will provide some answers.”
Breast cancer lifetime risk has increased from 1 in 20 women in 1940 to higher than 1 in 8 women today. Massachusetts has taken the lead among states in investigating the causes of the disease and reducing the use of carcinogenic chemicals.
Rep. Kevin Murphy, House chair of the Committee on Higher Education, praised UMass Lowell for its leadership in innovative research, especially in environmental causes of illness. “The increase in cancer has affected women more than men,” he said, adding that it is an issue people can take personally. “We all know people who have battled breast cancer.”
The state has made “a visionary investment in prevention,” said Julia Brody, executive director of the Silent Spring Institute, the research organization dedicated to finding and breaking the links between the environment and women’s health issues, especially breast cancer. “Massachusetts was the first,” she said.
Brody led the first comprehensive study of women’s exposure to harmful substances ߝ endocrine disruptors ߝ in their homes on Cape Cod, a “hot spot” of breast cancer incidence. Rep. Cleon Turner, representing the Cape, and Rep. Steven D’Amico, representing Seekonk in Bristol County, spoke at the press event and supported the legislation.
Turner said the Silent Spring Institute has an excellent track record in researching environmental links to breast cancer. “Now we can do the prevention better, and work with UMass Lowell.”
D’Amico said, “What would it be like if one in eight men suddenly had tuberculosis ߝ would money go into treatment or into finding the causes? Lots of money goes into treatment (of breast cancer). It’s important for the public sector to invest in prevention.”
David Wegman, M.D., dean of the School of Health and Environment, is a nationally recognized leader in occupational health and epidemiology. The School’s Center for Sustainable Production will direct the research, led by Richard Clapp, adjunct professor, epidemiologist and founding member of the Massachusetts Cancer Registry.
“How do we live our lives in an environment that increasingly is contaminated in ways we don’t understand?” said Wegman. “We want to use chemicals, be we want to do so knowingly and responsibly.”
“In facing this epidemic (of breast cancer), we need more than awareness ߝ we need answers,” said Deborah Shields, executive director of the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition, the education and advocacy arm of the project.
UMass Lowell, with a national reputation in science, engineering and technology, is committed to educating students for lifelong success in a diverse world and conducting research and outreach activities that sustain the economic, environmental and social health. UML offers its 11,000 students more than 120 degree choices, internships, five-year combined bachelor’s to master’s programs and doctoral studies in the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Management, the School of Health and Environment, and the Graduate School of Education. www.uml.edu.