Lowering breast cancer risk: Searching the environment

    Most breast cancers are sporadic, not linked to heredity or a known genetic risk, and that leaves many women wondering what they can do to lower their risk. A new Institute of Medicine report tries to answer that question.

    Women sometimes worry about the food they eat, chemicals in the home, even the screening tests designed to detect a tumor. An expert panel culled the research, looking for environmental factors linked to breast cancer.

    Avoiding unnecessary X-rays and certain kinds of hormone-replacement therapy may reduce a woman’s risk for breast cancer. The evidence is less certain for a long list of other exposures such as tobacco smoke or gasoline fumes.

    Medical oncologist Aruna Padmanabhan says experts are fairly certain that consumer hair dyes, for instance, are no problem, but the research isn’t definitive.

    “But there are many other factors that we can counsel our patients about, as in not using birth control pills if they have a high risk for breast cancer or losing weight, or increasing physical activity, these are things that we can guide our patients with,” said Padmanabhan, a physician with Temple University Health System.

    Washington University toxicologist David Eaton says women often face a trade off.

    “For example, if somebody is going to try to avoid pesticides by eating organic vegetables–the message could get out in which people actually eat less fruits and vegetable to avoid the pesticides and we know that fruits and vegetables are, in fact, a very important contributor to reduction in cancer risk overall,” said Eaton, who served on the expert panel.

    The Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation paid for the study and will use the findings to guide future research funding.

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