Do Pollutants Cause Breast Cancer?

By Paloma D’Silva

Breast cancer is partly caused by toxic chemicals in the environment, according to a recent study by the Institute of Medicine (IOM). These pollutants are surprisingly common, and most women are exposed to them from a variety of sources.

Carcinogenic pollutants come from radiation and from consumer products. They are in household cleaning products, microwaves, cosmetics, hairsprays, and refrigerators. These chemicals seep into water as runoff from landfills, affect people as well as animals, and have been shown to cause breast cancer in women. Breast Cancer Action believes that the environmental factor has been overlooked in research, and that its influence has been grossly underestimated.

“We don’t need reports that dink around with lifestyle choices—more exercise, less alcohol, avoiding excess weight, don’t smoke, etc.—which have at best an extremely small role in reducing breast cancerrisk and which fail to acknowledge that not all women have equal access to healthy lifestyle choices. We need to apply precautionary principles that stopcancer before it starts,” says Karuna Jaggar of Breast Cancer Action.

In the IOM’s study, it defined environment as “all factors that are not directly inherited through DNA,” such as physical and chemical agents, social factors, and lifestyle. Genetic factors account for only 27% of breast cancer in the United States, according to Janet Ackerman of The Silent Spring Institute.

The IOM’s recommendations for women to minimize the risk of breast cancer are to exercise, eat a healthy diet, avoid smoking and drinking, and avoid toxic chemicals or radiation, which are linked to breast cancer. However, if environment is such a large factor, then we need to take steps beyond individual lifestyle changes. We need to advocate to keep carcinogenic pollutants out of our air, water, and homes. To get involved, check out Women’s Voices for the Earth.

© 2012 SCGH, LLC.


  1. Alyssa Owens February 6, 2012
  2. Paloma July 25, 2012

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