The BPA and breast cancer link is confusing but important to understand

Everywhere you go, it seems you see “BPA-free” on plastic bottles. Most of us know that BPA is some bad-for-you chemical, but what can it really do to us? For starters, it’s linked to breast cancer, which is big cause for concern.

Miniscule exposure to BPA increases the risk of other conditions such as infertility, early puberty, hormone abnormalities, asthma, metabolic disorder and Type 2 diabetes. To make matters more scary, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found detectable levels of BPA in 93 percent of 2,517 urine samples from people ages 6 and older. So it’s there. Everywhere, actually.

That said, according to the Susan G. Komen foundation, there is no concrete evidence that exposure to low levels of BPA causes breast cancer in humans. A statement from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration claims BPA is safe at the very low levels that occur in some foods.

See why everyone seems to be going nuts about BPA?

More: 5 Common myths about breast cancer

Where BPA comes from

BPA is found in plastic — and plastic is everywhere. It is also found in epoxy resins that coat metal products, including water pipes and food cans. Some dental sealants and composites may also contribute to BPA exposure. We typically are exposed to it when we eat — though air, dust and water can be other sources. BPA leaches from polycarbonate bottles, more or less, depending on the temperature of the liquid or the age of the container.

BPA is also in paper receipts… way to kill your shopping appetite, eh?

More: 9 Powerful quotes from breast cancer survivors

How BPA may increase your breast cancer risk

Several studies in mice and rats have shown there is an increased risk for developing breast cancer when exposed during gestation and around the time of birth.

Researchers say BPA (which is known as an endocrine-disrupting compound) can contribute to breast cancer development either by mimicking or disturbing the body’s natural estrogen. When someone is exposed to BPA, it gets in their system and can interrupt it, similar to the way estrogen does (which plays a role in breast cancer).

But once again, according to research on the Komen website, there is no solid proof that exposure in low levels to EDCs cause breast cancer. This is confusing given that CDC studies show that low-level exposure to EDCs do lead to a higher risk for developing breast cancer. Researchers also believe that regular exposure to these chemicals can have a cumulative effect to increase the risk of breast cancer. Meaning, if you don’t do anything about constantly being exposed, it could put you constantly at risk.

More: Women talk candidly about fighting breast cancer (VIDEO)

Why you shoud stay away from BPA

Aside from buying BPA-free bottles, there are other ways to avoid BPA and hopefully cut your risk of developing breast cancer. Don’t microwave containers with polycarbonate plastic.

Another tip: Don’t use hand sanitizers, handle cash register receipts and then dig into French fries. A study in 2014 found that people who did so were exposed to BPA very quickly. That’s because chemicals in hand sanitizer, lotion, sunscreen and soap can actually help your skin’s ability to soak up BPA even more. After exposure via the skin and mouth, the chemical was found in people’s blood and urine within 90 minutes, the researchers said. (The study doesn’t attack French fries, per se, but you get the point!)

In other recent news, researchers have come up with a BPA alternative. That means the chemical could soon be a relic… kind of like your old Walkman.

When you lower BPA exposure, you could be doing your body — or an unborn child — a world of good. According to some studies, it doesn’t take much BPA to boost breast cancer risk and because we’re exposed in so many ways to small amounts daily, being able to limit exposure is key. BPA doesn’t have a long half-life — meaning it will clear out of your system quickly via urine — so you can cease or decrease exposure effectively in a short time.