That Cashmere May Cost You More Than Money

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Of course, a woman's wealth does not in and of itself increase her risk of developing breast cancer. But what about the lifestyle that money brings? That's the question researchers asked themselves in deciding to examine the middle-to-high-income Boston suburb of Newton, Mass., where the living is relatively easy — and the incidence of breast cancer is 13 percent higher than the statewide average. Comparing Newton's wealthy and less-well-off areas, the Massachusetts-based Silent Spring Institute found higher rates of breast cancer in Newton's tonier neighborhoods. The researchers, taking into account known risk factors for breast cancer — such as delayed childbearing and ethnicity — noted that richer people tend to have more of their clothes dry-cleaned and hire pesticide-wielding professionals to manicure their lawns.

Sixty-five percent of families living in areas with a high incidence of breast cancer hired people to maintain their lawns, versus only 36 percent in the lower-risk areas. Dry cleaning services were used at least once a month by 45 percent of families in the high-risk areas, as opposed to 32 percent in the lower-risk neighborhoods.

So it's not wealth, but perhaps the amenities it permits that increase a woman's risk of breast cancer? Maybe, and maybe not. Wealthier women also conduct breast self-exams and have mammographies more often than the average population, resulting in a higher level of detection. As with all research of this type, it would be a mistake to jump to conclusions until a firm connection can be made. And though persistent, if vague, concerns over cancer and environmental toxins have plagued the chemical industry for many years, the authors of this study are careful not to declare a definitive link. Meanwhile, though, if you have a massive wardrobe to keep clean and wide swaths of lawn to maintain, it might be worthwhile to explore less toxic options, such as eco-friendlier Perry Process dry cleaning and some of the more organic methods of grass control that are available.