October is here and we are now in the season of pumpkin spice, spooky movies, and breast cancer awareness! October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, which is dedicated to bringing attention to the impacts of breast cancer and how to detect and treat it. Breast cancer is one of the most prevalent cancers among women in the United States affecting nearly 1 in 8 women (1). Like all cancers, breast cancer is complicated and scientists aren't positive of the direct causes. However, recent research has identified certain risk factors, like the environment and lifestyle, that could be associated with the disease.

If you're in your 20s or 30s, breast cancer may seem like something you don't have to worry about until later in life. But some of these risk factors can be modified by your lifestyle. Changing behavior early in life is super important, so take action this October and protect yourself using our top three tips to decrease your environmental risk of breast cancer.

  1. Limit alcohol consumption- studies show that increased alcohol consumption increases risk for breast cancer. Alcohol can damage DNA in your cells, or increase levels of estrogen (a hormone involved in the development of many breast cancers) (2).
  1. Stay smoke free! Tobacco smoke contains a handful of cancer-causing agents and is associated with higher rates of breast cancer, especially among younger women (3).
  1. Be proactive about your health This means staying active, eating a balanced and healthy diet, scheduling regular women's health check-ups, and looking into genetic counseling if you have a family history of breast cancer. Exercise and weight management through a healthy diet have both been linked to a lower risk of breast cancer. This is important because fat cells store estrogen and as a result, overweight and obese women are more likely to develop cancer in breast tissue (4).

Even though you probably don't need ANOTHER reason to cut environmental toxics out of your life, it is also worth noting that preliminary evidence suggests other toxics such as pesticides, BPA, metals lead and mercury, could be associated with breast cancer risk. Although mechanisms are unclear thus far, scientists speculate that endocrine disrupting chemicals like pesticides and BPA act on the estrogen pathway. And heavy metals like lead and mercury may interact with and inhibit the body's natural cancer defenses. Even though the research is new, it may be worth your while to avoid products containing these chemicals, especially if you have other breast cancer risk factors (5,6).

Be proactive this breast cancer awareness month and do what you can to lower your risk!

Sources:

  1. https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/statistics
  2. https://www.breastcancer.org/risk/factors/alcohol
  3. https://www.breastcancer.org/risk/factors/smoking
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/risk_factors.html
  5. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/materials/environmental_factors_and_breast_cancer_risk_508.pdf
  6. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions/breast-cancer/index.cf

7) https://bcaction.org/our-take-on-breast-cancer/environment/

8) https://www.nap.edu/read/13263/chapter/8#290

9) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20195925

Life

Does Where You Live Impact Your Breast Cancer Risk?

The surprising connection between your environment and breast cancer

Every year in the United States, 245,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women and about 2,200 in men (1). This translates to 1 in 8 women being diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. This makes breast cancer the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women in the United States.

While we have found many risk factors for breast cancer like late menopause, having children late in life, and family history, we still do not know what causes normal cells to become cancerous (2). In fact, the risk factors described above only account for 30% of women with breast cancer. This means that seventy percent of breast cancer cases have no known risk factors (3).

Scientists agree that breast cancer manifests from a combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors. While genetic and hormonal factors are harder to change, we may be able to reduce our risk of breast cancer by avoiding exposure to certain chemicals.

How the Environment is Linked to Breast Cancer

It has been shown that Japanese immigrants in the United States have higher incidence rates of breast cancer compared to their counterparts in their homeland (4). This observation suggests that there is a strong relationship between the disease and the environment. This is not only true in Japan! Non-industrialized countries have lower breast cancer rates than industrialized countries. People who immigrated to industrialized countries, such as the United States, from their homeland developed the same rates of breast cancer observed in their new home.

So what is going on in industrialized countries? A study investigated the link between breast cancer and the environment, and found that women who lived in areas of higher airborne lead, mercury, and cadmium were at a higher risk of developing postmenopausal breast cancer (5). Studies also found that estrogen is a key hormone that is intimately linked to the development of breast cancer, and that xenohormones, a group of synthetic chemicals that imitate estrogen, have been found to significantly enhance the risk for breast cancer during growth and adolescence (6). Xenohormones can be found in our everyday life. They are present in common weed killers, pesticides, plastics, and bug sprays. Increased exposure to these chemicals may play a role in the high risk of breast cancer seen in industrialized countries.

What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

While scientists are still hard at work to determine the cocktail of factors that causes breast cancer, we can do our part to take precautions against the environmental factors that have been associated with the disease. When possible, avoid areas of high air pollution. Opt to stay indoors or wear a N95 face mask if conditions are poor and you must go outside. Additionally, be aware of xenohormones and other endocrine disruptors in the products you are in contact with.

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Breast Cancer Basic Information
  2. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions/breast-cancer/index.cfm#footnote2
  3. https://bcaction.org/our-take-on-breast-cancer/environment/
  4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0959804993902277
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30198937
  6. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0306987798902626
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Ever wonder what makes your shampoo smell so good or your lipstick that perfect shade of red? Well, turns out, very few people know except for the companies that make those smells or colors. That's because companies aren't required to share the ingredients in personal care products. It seems like something the FDA should be able to look into, but the regulations on what the FDA can check haven't been updated since 1938. And trust us, the science behind those smells and colors has changed a lot in the last 80 years.

But, we can change that! And, Kourtney is doing her best to help push those changes along, too. So, here's you chance to actually do something like a Kardashian - add you name to this petition. You will help send this letter to a committee in Congress telling them that you think there should be more testing on these personal care products than just what industry funded organization do on their own (right now that's the only way products are tested for safety). Products that we use on our bodies every day shouldn't be able to contain ingredients that have been linked to birth defects, reproductive harm, infertility, ovarian cancer, and breast cancer. But, without ingredient disclosures, it's hard to know which products contain those chemicals. The FDA should know that the ingredients are safe and the companies should have to share those ingredients openly like other industries do, which is exactly what this petition is asking Senators to make the law say.

Make your voice heard and let's get Congress to update some of these rules to help make the personal care products we use every day safer.

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