Many everyday chemicals have been linked to breast cancer, warns a comprehensive review performed by the Silent Spring Institute and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
The study documents 17 families of chemicals that women can be screened for exposure to and includes tips for women seeking to reduce their cancer risk.
"Every woman in America has been exposed to chemicals that may increase her risk of getting breast cancer," study co-author Julia Brody said.
"Unfortunately, the link between toxic chemicals and breast cancer has largely been ignored. Reducing chemical exposures could save many, many women's lives."
The researchers searched scientific literature for methods to screen for exposure to 102 different chemicals that have been shown to cause mammary tumors in rodents. Because carcinogenicity is similar in rodents and humans, the researchers believe that most or all of these chemicals are likely to cause breast cancer in human women as well.
The researchers found that exposure tests have been developed for 73 of the chemicals, or nearly three-quarters, while many of the remaining chemicals can be tested for using modified versions of tests for related chemicals. Of the 73 chemicals, measurements of 62 have been performed in human beings (45 of those in people exposed in non-occupational environments). Tests by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control have measured 23 of the chemicals in the general U.S. population.
The study is the first comprehensive listing of potential breast carcinogens, along with a catalog of ways for medical professionals to test women's exposure.
"This paper is a thorough review of toxicology data and biomarkers relevant to breast cancer in humans," said Dale Sandler, chief of epidemiology at the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
How To Reduce Your Risk
The researchers divided the 73 chemicals into 17 groups, based on structural similarities, exposure potential and carcinogenicity. The final list included many ubiquitous chemicals including benzene and butadiene (found in vehicle exhaust, tobacco smoke, lawn equipment and charred food), methylene chloride (a cleaning solvent), flame retardants, hormone replacement therapy drugs, and chemicals found in nonstick cookware and stain-resistant fabrics. Other sources of carcinogen exposure included paint removers, chemicals used to disinfect drinking water and a chemical used to make Styrofoam.
The paper suggests seven steps that women can take to dramatically reduce their exposure to these chemicals. These include:
1. Filtering your drinking water with a solid carbon block filter.
2. Using a ventilation fan during cooking to reduce smoke inhalation, in addition to reducing your intake of charred or burned foods.
3. Reducing exposure to fuel fumes by not idling your vehicle; using electric rather than gas-powered lawn mowers, leaf blowers and weed whackers; and avoiding exposure to vehicle tailpipes or gas-powered generators.
4. Reducing the accumulation of chemicals in your home by removing shoes at the door, using a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter in your vacuum cleaner and furnace or air conditioner and cleaning with wet rags and mops to get rid of dust without pushing it back into the air.
5. Avoiding fabrics, furniture or rugs marketed as "stain-resistant”.
6. Only having furniture that has not been treated with flame retardants and that is free of polyurethane foam.
7. Not visiting dry-cleaners that use PERC (perchloroethylene) or other solvents; asking for "wet cleaning" instead.
"The study provides a road map for breast cancer prevention by identifying high-priority chemicals that women are most commonly exposed to and demonstrates how to measure exposure," study author Ruthann Rudel said. "This information will guide efforts to reduce exposure to chemicals linked to breast cancer and help researchers study how women are being affected."