We've all heard of breast cancer and seen the pink ribbons, but what do we really know about it? Surely you've heard about things like inherited genetic risk or lifestyle factors like smoking, alcohol use, and lack of exercise. But there are also a lot of environmental factors that increase the risk of breast cancer too (1,5). Some of these environmental factors come from things like toxic chemicals in our personal care products and cleaning solutions, endocrine disrupting chemicals that find their way into our food, processed foods, poor air quality, and much more. This means aspects of our home life and the outside world could make us more susceptible to breast cancer. It's not just the cocktails and our seemingly inability to get off the couch and go for a run! And yes, "us" really means all of us! Whether you're a man, woman, non binary, transgender, or you're over the age of 50 or are young enough to know how Tik Tok works, breast cancer affects us all. The way breast cancer develops and knowing the risks for it can be tricky and sometimes uncontrollable, but it doesn't mean there aren't ways to limit your exposure to these lesser-known environmental risks, so keep reading to find out how!

Environmental factors and breast cancer

In our daily life we come into contact with a lot of products that may contain chemicals that increase our risk for developing breast cancer. These chemicals may be in the cleaning products we use, cosmetics, our food, our air, and even our water. You may have even heard of some of them like heavy metals, PCBs, radiation, pesticides, and a whole host more. But to spare you about 8 hours, we will just mention a few!

Personal care and cleaning products

The usual suspects of harmful chemicals in our cosmetic and cleaning products are also the ones that are putting us at risk for breast cancer. Chemicals like BPA, phthalates, parabens, and PFAS have all been studied for their correlation with breast cancer (2). BPA and phthalates, which are often added to plastics, have been tested in a myriad of breast cancer studies for their endocrine disrupting abilities. Being exposed to these chemicals in utero or even in puberty can alter the development of mammary glands and increase an individual's risk for breast cancer later in life. While there is still ongoing research, laboratory studies show BPA alters mammary growth and development in rodents and other mammals and can increase the risk of tumor formation (3). And phthalates, which are also found in many fragrances, showed a high association with breast cancer and people who used cleaners and air fresheners frequently throughout their life (2).

Parabens, another group of endocrine disruptors, are often used in cosmetics as preservatives. Parabens have been found in biopsies of breast cancer tumors and have been shown to rapidly increase the numbers of human breast cancer cells (1). Then finally there is PFAS, a group of waterproofing chemicals found in many cosmetics that remains in our bodies and the environment for a very long time. PFAS has been found in amniotic fluid and placental cord blood samples and is linked with issues with mammary gland development during the prenatal and puberty stage. It has also been linked to delayed breast development in some studies (3). All of these chemicals have pretty serious effects over a long period of time and many of them are avoidable if we choose the right products!

Contaminated Food

Another risk factor we come into contact with everyday is our food. Some of the concerns include the use of pesticides and even the materials our food is packaged in. Many pesticides and herbicides used in agriculture are classified as endocrine disruptors and in animals studies have been shown to affect the development of mammary glands in both males and female rodents (1,6). Pesticides can often be found as residue on the food itself or in cases like fish, the pesticides can be found within the meat of the animal. Because pesticides are often found in water runoff, they leach into bodies of water and can be found in the fatty parts of fish (6).

Materials that come into contact with our food after it is grown can also potentially increase our risk. Contamination can be through packaging, processing, cooking, and food storage. For example, BPA is found in the lining of canned food and in many plastics. One study found that reducing intake of packaged foods decreased BPA levels in urine by 65% (1). Breast development is controlled by the endocrine system so being exposed to different endocrine disruptors in many forms can lead to altered breast development and an increased risk in breast cancer (7).

Poor air quality

Last up is all about what we breathe! There are many harmful air pollutants that come from a variety of sources like cars and industrial processes, but the one that has been correlated with breast cancer the most is nitrogen oxide. Nitrogen oxide (NOx) is considered to be a marker of traffic related air pollution because it comes from the burning of fuel in automobiles, trucks, and other equipment that run on combustion (5,8). This air pollutant has been linked to pre and postmenopusal breast cancer, as well as many other types of cancers. Air pollution is a tricky risk factor because we all have to breathe air, making it really hard to avoid, but it's often most concentrated in cities with high traffic and in communities of color (5,10,11).

Medical inequalities related to Breast Cancer

While explaining how all of these environmental risks affect us everyday, it's important to note that some groups of people are more at risk than others. In particular, Black women have a higher incidence of breast cancer before the age of 45 and are more likely to die from breast cancer at every age compared to White women. Many factors contribute to this including lack of insurance, fear of testing, delay in seeking care, barriers to early detection and care, and racial bias (9). A lot of the barriers minorities face comes directly from racism within the health care system as well as socioeconomic factors. One survey done at York State hospitals found that physicians have more negative perceptions towards African Americans and people of low or middle socioeconomic status. Another study found that 41% of Black women compared to 28% of White women had stated their doctor had never suggested mammography (9). So in many instances doctors are not recommending preventative care that could save a Black woman's life.

And not only are minority populations directly affected by the health care system, they are also disproportionately exposed to chemicals of concern for breast cancer, like the ones we discussed above. African Americans often have high body levels of many chemicals including PCB's, mercury, PAH's, and phthalates. And both African American and Hispanic populations have varying levels of BPA, PFAS, and triclosan compared to White populations (1). Beauty products marketed to Black and Brown women (such as skin lighteners, hair straighteners, and feminine hygiene products) contain harmful chemicals (12). In a time of ongoing social change these issues need to be addressed and brought to light. These barriers are not a choice, they are placed on these communities and put them at a disadvantage that is causing them to get sick.

Ways to avoid these environmental risks

It's almost impossible to know when, how, or if breast cancer might develop because of the many factors including environmental risks that are at play. But even though there isn't a definitive way to determine what might cause breast cancer, there are ways you can potentially reduce your exposure levels. Here are a few tangible ways to reduce your risk!

  1. First things first, do self breast exams and go in for regular mammograms with a licensed physician. You can do it yourself or have a partner help you! Here is a link on how to do a self breast exam!
  2. Reduce toxic cleaning products in your daily routine. Here are some natural cleaning alternatives we recommend for all purpose cleaners, floor cleaners, and laundry detergents. Check out our website for more alternatives!
  3. Also reduce the amount of toxic cosmetic products in your routine. Check out stores like Credo, Follian, Sephora clean, and Target clean to try some cleaner cosmetic products!
  4. Buy less fast food or even reduce the amount of times you go every week. Start by going one less day a week!
  5. Reduce the amount of packaged foods you consume to reduce your exposure to chemical additives in the plastic as well as the food!
  6. Buy organic fruits and vegetables if possible. Our secret for prioritizing organic produce is leafy greens, berries of all kinds, and things with skin you eat. If you prefer conventional produce make sure and wash the produce as much as possible to remove any possible residual pesticides!
  7. Buy an air purifier to keep the air you breathe in your home as clean as possible. Here are a few we recommend, but if you can't buy one here is how you can make your own!
  8. Drive less! It's easier said than done, but reducing vehicle emissions is a sure way to reduce the amount of air pollution we collectively breathe in!
  9. Donate to organizations that are fighting against medical racism and trying to reduce the health disparities for people of color. Some organizations are The Center for the study of Racism, Social Justice, and Health and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Also check out are article on environmental justice and how to get involved!

When it comes to breast cancer there are risks all around us, but we are not completely powerless. While some things are hard to avoid, there are plenty of chemicals and products we can limit in order to minimize our exposure as much as possible. And as a young person you may not feel like any of this applies to you, but it's never too early to protect yourself against the risks of breast cancer.


Sources

  1. Gray, J. M., Rasanayagam, S., Engel, C., & Rizzo, J. (2017). State of the evidence 2017: An update on the connection between breast cancer and the environment. Environmental Health, 16(1), 94. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12940-017-0287-4
  2. Rodgers, K. M., Udesky, J. O., Rudel, R. A., & Brody, J. G. (2018). Environmental chemicals and breast cancer: An updated review of epidemiological literature informed by biological mechanisms. Environmental Research, 160, 152–182. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2017.08.045
  3. Buermeyer, N., Engel, C., Nudelman, J., Rasanayagam, S., & Sarantis, H. (2020). Paths to Prevention: California Breast Cancer Primary Prevention Plan. UC Office of the President: California Breast Cancer Research Program. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/1v2745z0
  4. Fiolet, T., Srour, B., Sellem, L., Kesse-Guyot, E., Allès, B., Méjean, C., Deschasaux, M., Fassier, P., Latino-Martel, P., Beslay, M., Hercberg, S., Lavalette, C., Monteiro, C. A., Julia, C., & Touvier, M. (2018). Consumption of ultra-processed foods and cancer risk: Results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort. BMJ, 360, k322. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k322
  5. White, A. J., Bradshaw, P. T., & Hamra, G. B. (2018). Air pollution and Breast Cancer: A Review. Current Epidemiology Reports, 5(2), 92–100. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40471-018-0143-2
  6. Kass, L., Gomez, A. L., & Altamirano, G. A. (2020). Relationship between agrochemical compounds and mammary gland development and breast cancer. Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology, 508, 110789. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mce.2020.110789
  7. Yang, K. J., Lee, J., & Park, H. L. (2020). Organophosphate Pesticide Exposure and Breast Cancer Risk: A Rapid Review of Human, Animal, and Cell-Based Studies. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(14), 5030. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17145030
  8. https://www3.epa.gov/region1/airquality/nox.html
  9. Yedjou, C. G., Sims, J. N., Miele, L., Noubissi, F., Lowe, L., Fonseca, D. D., Alo, R. A., Payton, M., & Tchounwou, P. B. (2019). Health and Racial Disparity in Breast Cancer. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, 1152, 31–49. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-20301-6_3
  10. Clark, L. P., Millet, D. B., & Marshall, J. D. (n.d.). Changes in Transportation-Related Air Pollution Exposures by Race-Ethnicity and Socioeconomic Status: Outdoor Nitrogen Dioxide in the United States in 2000 and 2010. Environmental Health Perspectives, 125(9), 097012. https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP959
  11. Tessum, C. W., Paolella, D. A., Chambliss, S. E., Apte, J. S., Hill, J. D., & Marshall, J. D. (n.d.). PM2.5 polluters disproportionately and systemically affect people of color in the United States. Science Advances, 7(18), eabf4491. https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.abf4491
  12. Zota, Ami R., and Bhavna Shamasunder. "The environmental injustice of beauty: framing chemical exposures from beauty products as a health disparities concern." American journal of obstetrics and gynecology 217.4 (2017): 418-e1.

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajog.2017.07.020

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. However, some of these risk factors can be modified by your lifestyle, and changing behavior early in life is important. 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 any amount of alcohol increases risk for breast cancer. The more alcohol you drink, the more risk you take on. Alcohol can damage DNA in your cells, or increase levels of estrogen (a hormone involved in the development of many breast cancers) (2). This is not to say you must refrain from enjoying a glass of wine at the end of a long day, some studies even show that moderate alcohol use can be protective for heart disease! However, if you do decide to drink it is important to practice moderation. Managing lifestyle risk factors can be a difficult balancing act. Bottom line: Avoiding heavy alcohol consumption is always a good idea and other decisions about alcohol and health should be made with careful assessment of your other risk and lifestyle factors
  2. 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). The carcinogens in tobacco smoke can bind to DNA leading to mutations and tissue damage, and many of these carcinogens have affinity for breast tissue due to their chemical makeup. Evidence suggests smoking tobacco works synergistically with other factors to substantially increase risk .
  3. 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. Because fat cells store estrogen, overweight and obese women are more likely to develop cancer in breast tissue (5).

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 (6,7).

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.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4013418/
  5. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/risk_factors.html
  6. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/materials/environmental_factors_and_breast_cancer_risk_508.pdf
  7. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions...
  8. https://bcaction.org/our-take-on-breast-cancer/environment/
  9. https://www.nap.edu/read/13263/chapter/8#290
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20195925
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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
Science

Are Cell Phones and Wifi Frying Our Brains?

Everything you need to know about devices that create electromagnetic fields and radiation

Some of the best-known ways we interact with electromagnetic fields are through cell phones, wifi, microwaves, and x-rays. Basically, we interact with them or use them do to mundane, but sort of magical, tasks every day. But, have you ever wondered if and how those things affect your health? Like is standing too close to the actually microwave bad? Is carrying your cell phone in your pocket or sports bra going to ruin your sperm or give you breast cancer? Is sleeping with your phone under your pillow really a big deal? We dug through the current research to answer exactly those questions.

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Life

Just Say No to Receipts For Your Health

How often do you go back and read them anyway?

Simple tip for quickly reducing your exposure to BPA coming at ya'. Ready for it? When you're at a store and they say would you like a receipt, just say no or ask for an emailed one.

Unless you really need the receipt because you think you will be returning an item or because you have to show proof of what you purchased to be reimbursed from work or for taxes, chances are receipts aren't doing you any good. If you are like me, the receipts you do get just end up cluttering your wallet or floating around in the bottom of your bag.

While that may seem harmless, receipts are actually covered in BPA (or it's chemical cousin BPS) powder.

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