Environmental Chemicals & Breast Cancer Risk

June 11, 2021 Dr. Shilpy Dolas No comments exist

Worldwide Breast Cancer rates have increased by nearly 14-20 percent over the past few years. The number of synthetic chemicals in the environment has also increased during this time. These caused many to question whether the increasingly polluted environment is contributing to increased breast cancer rates. Few studies are confirming the effects of chemicals in the environment on breast cancer risk although research in this area is growing and scientists are beginning to learn more about the relationship between environmental chemicals and breast cancer. As it may help prevent the disease in some people, understanding the links between environmental pollutants and breast cancer is critical.

Estrogen Hormonal Disruption from Environmental Chemicals

          Estrogen plays an important role in breast cancer risk as it is our body’s hormones. Still, research has found that various environmental chemicals can act like estrogen and these chemicals are often referred to as EDCs (Endocrine Disrupting Compounds). These may contribute to breast cancer risk by disrupting or mimicking the effects of the body’s natural estrogen. Few commonly recognized EDCs are BPA, DDT, PAHs, Dioxin, PCBs, Phthalates, Heavy metals (e.g., arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury).

          Present, there is no firm evidence that low-level EDC exposure causes breast cancer and WHO/IARC (World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer) has classified most EDCs as carcinogens (causing cancer). Researchers think that routine exposure to these chemicals can add up and may work with the body’s estrogen to increase the risk of breast cancer although environmental estrogens are less potent than the body’s estrogen.

Period of Exposure to Environmental Chemicals

          The time in a person’s life is when they are exposed to environmental chemicals may affect how these chemicals boost breast cancer risk for them. The growth of the breast begins in the womb and continues after birth through puberty and even goes through many maturing changes during lactation, pregnancy, and menopause. Few suggest that developing breasts are more vulnerable than mature breasts to damage by some chemicals including BPA, PAHs, and others. Hence, early-life exposure to some chemicals may affect breast cancer risk later in life.

          Also, few chemicals can be stored in the body’s tissue for long periods. So, the long-term effects of some banned chemicals (such as DDT) are of concern because they continue to be detected in the environment and the breast milk, food supply, and fat tissue of animals & humans.

          The study of breast cancer risk and environmental exposure has been a challenge for researchers by considering public health. Many researchers and government agencies are working to collect information about exposures to environmental chemicals or other chemicals and carry out biomonitoring to measure and resolve the effects of the chemicals on breast cancer risk.

Revealing Environmental Chemicals Causing Breast Cancer Risk

          Over the past decades, there have been many debates about whether chemicals in our environment have a connection to breast cancer. Over the past few years, Cancer risk and chemicals such as pesticides (e.g. dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT)) have been the focus of considerable research. Anyhow, the concern is now growing about synthetic chemicals and non-pesticides. More research is needed to determine if they have any effect on breast cancer risk and exposure levels for these chemicals are unclear. There are few Chemicals related to breast cancer that are given below:

  • BPA (Bisphenol A) – originated in many rigid plastic products, food, and dental sealants
  • PAHs (Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) – originated in vehicle exhaust, air pollution, tobacco smoke, and smoked food.
  • Parabens – preservatives originated in antiperspirants, cosmetics, and skincare products.
  • PCBs – originated in some plastics, adhesives, paper, inks, paints, dyes, and other household products.
  • Dioxins – formed by the burning of products containing PVC (polyvinyl chloride), PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), and combustion of diesel fuel and gasoline.


  1. What is an environmental chemical?

          As specified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a chemical compound that is present in the air, water, soil, food, dust, and other consumer products is “an environmental chemical”. Over a lifetime every individual is exposed to thousands of natural and synthetic chemicals in different kinds of environments. The chemicals can be taken in as food water or through the skin or by inhaling polluted air. Some of the common environmental chemicals include carbon monoxide, pesticides, chloroform, and some heavy metals like lead, mercury, arsenic, and also smokers.

  1. How is exposure to environmental chemicals measured?

          The amount of chemicals in our body is measured by levels of chemicals present in our blood and urine known as biomonitoring. The amount of chemicals that go into our body from the environment is shown by the blood and urine levels. When exposed to environmental chemicals these chemicals can affect the impact of breast cancer risk.

  1. Why are studies on Breast Cancer risk and environmental chemicals so confusing?

          Many researchers say that the exposure levels and cancer risks for these chemicals are unclear and need to collect more information about them. Many of the present studies are incomplete and the methods to measure the chemical levels have some limitations. As a result, many institutes for research agencies give unclear and confusing information.

          If any study is done on humans it can be only biomonitoring. For the research, several women are required and it takes much time to complete the study. It is also difficult to detect cancer tumors in humans even before 10 years. Some other studies consider environmental factors like obesity and diet or the different environmental chemicals.

If you have any query about breast cancer, contact Dr. Shilpy Dolas. She is an eminent breast cancer specialist in Pune and deals with all kinds of breast-related issues with advanced ways of treating.

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