Tobacco smoke carcinogens and breast cancer

Environ Mol Mutagen. 2002;39(2-3):119-26. doi: 10.1002/em.10071.


Cigarette smoking is an established cause of a variety of cancer types, but its role in breast cancer etiology is not clear. In this report, the potential role of cigarette smoke carcinogens as causes of human breast cancer is evaluated. Of over 60 known carcinogens in tobacco smoke, several are known to induce mammary tumors in laboratory animals: benzo[a]pyrene (B[a]P), dibenzo[a,l]pyrene (DB[a,l]P), 2-toluidine, 4-aminobiphenyl, 2-amino-3-methylimidazo[4,5-f]quinoline (IQ), 2-amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo[4,5-b]pyridine (PhIP), 1,3-butadiene, isoprene, nitromethane, ethylene oxide, and benzene. Studies in humans demonstrate that tobacco constituents can reach breast tissue. The uptake and metabolic activation of mammary carcinogens such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and 4-aminobiphenyl are frequently higher in smokers than in nonsmokers. Although it is likely that specific mammary carcinogens in tobacco smoke can reach breast tissue, evidence is lacking at the present time. Some PAHs present in cigarette smoke can be metabolized to sterically hindered diol epoxides, which are potent mammary carcinogens. Thus, compounds such as benzo[c]phenanthrene (B[c]P), not classically considered to be a strong carcinogen in rodents, could nevertheless be metabolized in humans to diol epoxides carcinogenic to the breast. Collectively, the link between smoking and breast cancer is plausible but has been difficult to establish, probably because of the low carcinogen dose.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Benzo(a)pyrene / adverse effects
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Carcinogens / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Mutagens / adverse effects
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / adverse effects
  • Rats
  • Smoking / adverse effects*


  • Carcinogens
  • Mutagens
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
  • Benzo(a)pyrene