Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Breast Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Breast Cancer Research Needs More Focus on Environment: Report


WebMD News from HealthDay

By Amanda Gardner

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Feb. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Efforts to prevent breast cancer need to focus more aggressively and coherently on environmental factors.

That's the conclusion of a new report released Tuesday by a committee tasked in 2008 by the U.S. Congress to investigate the environment's impact on breast cancer.

Chemical and radiation exposure, drugs and consumer products are among environmental factors addressed in the report, but so are less obvious factors connected to lifestyle and socioeconomic resources.

If researchers could identify specific factors in the environment, they could take steps to remove them from the environment and/or help people avoid them, said Michael Gould, a member of the Interagency Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Coordinating Committee, which prepared the report.

"This area of primary prevention and taking things out of the environment that might reduce the amount of breast cancer is not as bold as it could be," Gould said.

Environment in this case is defined broadly to mean not just chemicals but also obesity and socioeconomic status, he added. Primary prevention refers to preventing the first onset of a disease, as opposed to a recurrence.

The 270-page report also states that more research is needed on how different populations, such as underrepresented minorities, might face higher exposures.

Issues of obesity and socioeconomic status, in particular, are "understudied and underappreciated," said Dr. Jay Brooks, chairman of hematology/oncology at Ochsner Health System in Baton Rouge, La.

Obesity is responsible for about 20 percent of all cancers, and obesity and poverty often overlap, added Brooks, who was not involved with the report.

The American Cancer Society estimates that 232,000 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2013 and nearly 40,000 will die of the disease.

Given that most breast cancers occur in women with no family history of the disease, environmental factors could play significantly into prevention efforts, the report stated.

The authors reviewed the existing literature on prevention of breast cancer and came up with several recommendations, the first being that the area of environment in the primary prevention of breast cancer needs better financial support.

"The committee feels the country can do better by increasing that level of support," said Gould, who is a professor of oncology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health.

In tandem with more financial investment, organizations -- both governmental and nongovernmental -- need to work together in a more coordinated and strategic manner, the report stated.

And much more research is needed into the chemical and physical causes of breast cancer. This might include low-dose radiation or compounds known as endocrine disruptors, such as bisphenol A (BPA), which are found in manufactured plastics. (There is no clear evidence yet that BPA causes breast cancer in humans.)

Today on WebMD

Breast Cancer Overview
From self-exams and biopsies to reconstruction, we’ve got you covered.
Dealing with breast cancer
Get answers to your questions.
 
woman having mammogram
Experts don’t agree on all fronts, but you can be your own advocate.
woman undergoing breast cancer test
Many women worry. But the truth? Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
 
Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
VIDEO
Resolved To Quit Smoking
SLIDESHOW
 
Woman getting mammogram
Article
Screening Tests for Women
SLIDESHOW
 
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
serious woman
Article
 
what is your cancer risk
HEALTH CHECK
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow
SLIDESHOW