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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Steps Women Can Take to Reduce Risk of Breast Cancer

Some Steps Are Proven, Others May Be Recommended but Still Need Research

Ideal Study Hard to Do

Part of the problem is that environmental exposures begin in the womb and continue throughout life, so tracking them is virtually impossible, committee member Robert Hiatt says.

The ideal study would follow individuals for that entire span, he says, but that would be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming.

“The breast undergoes substantial changes over a woman’s lifetime,” the committee members note. “Future research should emphasize a ‘life course’ model.”

Testing of chemicals in animals often occurs too late in their life span to provide clues about the impact of early exposures in humans, says panel member David Eaton, PhD, professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Washington.

“Also,” says Hertz-Picciotto, professor of public health sciences at the UC Davis Health System, “we need to consider possible combined effects of many low-level exposures.”

Still, Hiatt says, “I actually think the time is very exciting for getting some place in this area.”

For example, he says, some studies are now looking at what determines the age at which girls enter puberty. Previous research has shown that the earlier the onset of puberty, the greater the breast cancer risk in adulthood.

And sophisticated molecular approaches can now uncover “fingerprints” left behind by exposures long ago, says Cheryl Lyn Walker, PhD, director of the Institute of Biosciences and Technology at the Texas A&M Health Science Center.

Karuna Jaggar MA, executive director of Breast Cancer Action, a San Francisco-based advocacy group, said she was “deeply disappointed” with the report. Instead of encompassing everything from stress to abdominal fat, Jaggar said in a statement, it should have focused on "the chemicals we are all exposed to in our everyday lives."

“The report recommendations for women merely rehash the little bit we already know about lifestyle and breast cancer and miss an opportunity to focus on relatively unknown areas of the environment,” Jaggar said in a statement.

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