A new study spotlights the ubiquity of environmental toxins, identifying 17 common chemicals that should be the target of breast cancer prevention efforts, and marking a "huge step forward" in the research called for by a federal committee.
The study by researchers at the Silent Spring Institute and Harvard School of Public Health was published Monday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
"Every woman in America has been exposed to chemicals that may increase her risk of getting breast cancer. Unfortunately, the link between toxic chemicals and breast cancer has largely been ignored," Julia Brody, PhD, study author and Executive Director at Silent Spring Institute, said in a statement.
More than 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. each year, but the SSI states that only "5‐10 percent of those are due to high‐risk inherited genes," emphasizing the need for research on environmental exposure-related diagnoses.
Yet "studies that address toxic chemical exposure account for just a drop in the bucket of money spent on breast cancer," Brody stated.
The new study also found that the same chemicals that have been found to cause mammary cancer in lab rats were also linked to breast cancer in women.
The researchers identified chemicals women may be commonly exposed to and that are rodent mammary carcinogens, and placed those into 17 groups.
They include chemicals in gasoline, diesel and other exhaust, flame retardants, stain-resistant textiles, paint removers, and disinfection byproducts in drinking water. Among the specific chemicals on the list of 17 are benzene, which can be found in gasoline, vehicle exhaust, tobacco smoke and solvents; styrene, found in building materials and consumer products made from polystyrene, indoor air, cigarette smoke, polystyrene food packaging; and PFOA and related compounds, which can be found in grease-, water- and stain-proof coatings, or contaminated drinking water. The list also includes endocrine disruptors, which have received increased attention in recent years due to their connection to products containing BPA.
"The study provides a road map for breast cancer prevention by identifying high-priority chemicals that women are most commonly exposed to and demonstrates how to measure exposure. This information will guide efforts to reduce exposure to chemicals linked to breast cancer, and help researchers study how women are being affected," added study author Ruthann Rudel, MS, Research Director of the Silent Spring Institute.
Last year, a report from a federal committee, the Interagency Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Coordinating Committee (IBCERCC ), emphasized the need for more research into the environmental causes of breast cancer, including the "cocktail of carcinogens and endocrine disruptors" people are exposed to every day.
"Prevention is the key to reducing the burden of breast cancer," said Jeanne Rizzo, President and CEO of the Breast Cancer Fund, the leading national organization working to prevent breast cancer by eliminating our exposures to toxic chemicals and radiation linked to the disease. "That was the conclusion reached by the 2013 federal IBCERCC committee I co-chaired, which also recommended research on the effects of chemical and physical factors that influence the risk of breast cancer. This review is a huge step forward in that research."
Echoing study author Rudel, Rizzo said "this review will be a vital reference tool for scientists looking to evaluate the causes of breast cancer."