Exploring the impact of environmental factors on breast cancer risk

Foods high in saturated fat and exposure to chemicals found in common household items may increase breast cancer risk.

Michigan State University Extension has partnered with the Michigan State University Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Program. MSU Extension educators with backgrounds in health education are talking to groups throughout Michigan regarding MSU research focused on environmental factors that impact breast cancer in women.

The Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Program (BCERP) is a multi-state effort funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Cancer Institute. The goal of the program is to support research that looks at environmental and genetic factors that underlie breast cancer risk over the course of women’s lives.

The research is exploring whether exposure to certain chemicals and foods, specifically foods high in saturated fat, may change how girls’ bodies mature during puberty. While it is too early to say for sure that avoiding certain chemicals or some foods will lower the risk of breast cancer, there are some steps that parents may wish to take that could potentially help protect their daughters from developing breast cancer later in life.

Environmental factors include chemicals in some detergents, storage containers, toys and personal care products, such as fragrance, nail polish, deodorant, hair care and body lotion. These chemicals may enter the body through the skin and they’re called phthalates (THAL-ates).

There is also a chemical in some plastic bottles and containers and in the lining of some cans. This chemical, BPA (bisphenol A) can leak into food and drinks from containers. What researchers are finding is that these chemicals may cause changes in growth and body development in animals. While there is, at this time, no clear evidence of their risk to humans, the potential for risk suggests the simple precaution of making choices that reduce exposure to these chemicals.

Here are some ways you can lessen the risk associated with chemicals:

  • Use more fragrance-free products.
  • Use glass containers instead of plastic for cooking, serving, and storing food and drinks.
  • Microwave food in glass containers, not plastic containers or plastic wrap.
  • Reduce use of personal care products with the word “phthalate” in the ingredients.
  • Reduce use of plastic food and drink containers, and plastic or vinyl toys with the number 3 in the recycling triangle. They contain phthalates.
  • Reduce use of plastic food and drink containers with the number 7 in the recycling triangle. They often contain BPA.
  • Reduce use of foods sold in cans, which may be lined with material made with BPA.

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