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.


  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.


Women are the superheroes of our society, and just like in true superhero-fashion they carry out their work swiftly and efficiently without anyone realizing just how much they do to make sure everyone stays safe and life keeps running! They manage to juggle a variety of tasks everyday and their hard work is often under-appreciated. In lower income countries, women are the ones to grow and produce food, obtain water, cook, clean, bring up children, and take care of the household. However, even though women are awesome, they face unequal health risks compared to men and climate change will only make things worse. Read on to learn more about how climate change impacts women's health specifically.

How women are more vulnerable

Certain cultural and religiously based gender roles place women and girls at higher risk of developing health risks. For example, women suffer from higher rates of anemia and malnutrition compared to men globally (5). In countries with deep-rooted gender norms, women eat last after all the men and boys have been fed and consume the least amount of food (8). Women are usually also the first to sacrifice their own food to ensure their families have enough in periods of crisis (8). All of this contributes to calorie deficiency, chronic energy deficiency, and poor health in women, making them more vulnerable to climate catastrophes (13).

Women are also more economically vulnerable due to lower social and political status in countries with strong gender roles (12). They often don't share the same rights as their male counterparts when it comes to things like social status, land ownership, educational opportunities, and health outcomes as it relates to reproductive and sexual health (12). Since women are responsible for household food and water collection in these countries--both time consuming and physically demanding tasks--they often don't have the time or opportunity to earn an income or continue their education or participate in local governance (12,13). In general, women in these societies have lower average literacy and education levels and even if they are able to secure a job are still regarded as secondary income earners and are the first to be laid off (13). This economic and social insecurity highlights the fact that women are more likely to slip into and live in poverty, inhibiting their ability to adequately provide self-protection and improve their socioeconomic condition (13).

In many societies, women are also in charge of caregiving responsibilities, which could prevent them from leaving certain areas outside their immediate environment (12). This would impede their ability to mobilize in case of emergency or climate disaster (12). Women are also at higher risk of violence during and after disasters (12,13).

It's clear to see from this that women face a number of challenges due to just their gender identity and often suffer more than men from poverty, hunger, malnutrition, economic crises, violence, and disaster related problems (13). Climate change-related disasters have the potential to make things worse.

Climate Change will make things worse

Climate change can impact people's health through a variety of mechanisms—heat, poor air quality, extreme weather events, reduced water quality, decreased food security, and vector-borne diseases, just to name a few (5). Since women have distinct physiologic and health needs throughout their life cycle, especially during periods like pregnancy, this places them at a greater risk of climate change impacts and sensitivities (2,5).

Since climate change can lead to increased temperatures and sea level rise, this contributes to heat waves and saltwater intrusion in rural coastal areas (2, 6). Saltwater intrusion happens when seawater encroaches into fresh groundwater supplies and increases the salt content of people's drinking water (7). This is an issue because people can't drink salt water and it can't be used to irrigate crops, so this could contribute to water scarcity and food insecurity (7). In addition, both saltwater intrusion and heat waves increase the potential risk for pregnant women of developing preeclampsia, gestational hypertension, or delivering preterm (2,6).

Since women often eat last in their families in certain countries, climate-driven food insecurity would worsen their already limited nutritional intake (5,8). This would negatively impact women's health during menstruation, pregnancy, and nursing—all periods of time when women have increased nutritional needs physiologically (2,5). Since women produce around 60-80% of all food in low-income countries and are the main food producers and providers in the world, climate change-related agricultural issues and food scarcity wouldn't just be a health issue but an economic one as well (2,3,5). Women's livelihoods as smallholder farmers would be at risk from climate-related crop failure, which would increase their risk of falling into poverty (5).

During climate-related disasters like floods, storms, droughts, and heat waves, women suffer more mortality cases compared to men and are at a greater risk of experiencing physical, sexual, and domestic violence afterwards (2,5). This mortality difference is most striking when compared to women's socio-economic status in the country, since women have the worst mortality outcomes in countries where they have very low social, economic, and political status (10).

This combination of low social and economic status and socially constructed gender roles contribute to the increased climate change-related health risks women have compared to men (9,13). However, we can do things to change this.

The way forward

Thankfully, organizations are aware of this disparity and have been researching how to mitigate it. By empowering women to participate in decision making at all levels and providing proper access to information and education, we can help develop and improve women's livelihoods and create lasting social change (13). Increasing women's social and economic opportunities will allow them to not only develop more social network connections and have greater autonomy and independence, but also contribute to overall better health outcomes.

While both men and women will be vulnerable to changing environmental conditions, the drivers and effects of climate change are not gender neutral (3). To help address this, women should be included at all levels of decision making so as to contribute to the process of assessing vulnerabilities and capacities and promoting equality (2,5,13).


  1. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2542-5196(20)30001-2
  2. https://books.google.com/books?id=JDAnEAAAQBAJ&newbks=1&newbks_redir=0&printsec=frontcover&pg=PA1&dq=climate+change+women+health&hl=en#v=onepage&q=climate%20change%20women%20health&f=false
  3. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=7pr8xyafPi0C&oi=fnd&pg=PA55&dq=climate+change+women+health&ots=bT1kAckdWt&sig=9UuuKEYOw6TQKP0GICEQ0apiC-w#v=onepage&q=climate%20change%20women%20health&f=false
  4. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2018.02.021
  5. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1002603
  6. https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/full/10.1289/ehp.1002804
  7. https://www.usgs.gov/mission-areas/water-resources/science/saltwater-intrusion?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects
  8. https://wfpusa.org/women-are-hungrier-infographic/#:~:text=Rooted%20Gender%20Norms-,Deep%2DRooted%20Gender%20Norms,ensure%20their%20families%20have%20enough.
  9. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(15)60854-6
  10. https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/144781/9789241508186_eng.pdf
  11. https://doi.org/10.1029/2018GH000163
  12. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Mohammed-Baten/publication/295861981_Gender_issue_in_climate_change_discourse_theory_versus_reality/links/585a2e0408aeffd7c4fda7a2/Gender-issue-in-climate-change-discourse-theory-versus-reality.pdf
  13. https://doi.org/10.11634/216796221504315

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