Environmental pollutants and breast cancer: epidemiologic studies

Cancer. 2007 Jun 15;109(12 Suppl):2667-711. doi: 10.1002/cncr.22655.


Laboratory research has shown that numerous environmental pollutants cause mammary gland tumors in animals; are hormonally active, specifically mimicking estrogen, which is a breast cancer risk factor; or affect susceptibility of the mammary gland to carcinogenesis. An assessment of epidemiologic research on these pollutants identified in toxicologic studies can guide future research and exposure reduction aimed at prevention. The PubMed database was searched for relevant literature and systematic critical reviews were entered in a database available at URL: www.silentspring.org/sciencereview and URL: www.komen.org/environment (accessed April 10, 2007). Based on a relatively small number of studies, the evidence to date generally supports an association between breast cancer and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in conjunction with certain genetic polymorphisms involved in carcinogen activation and steroid hormone metabolism. Evidence regarding dioxins and organic solvents is sparse and methodologically limited but suggestive of an association. Methodologic problems include inadequate exposure assessment, a lack of access to highly exposed and unexposed populations, and a lack of preclinical markers to identify associations that may be obscured by disease latency. Among chemicals identified in toxicologic research as relevant to breast cancer, many have not been investigated in humans. The development of better exposure assessment methods is needed to fill this gap. In the interim, weaknesses in the epidemiologic literature argue for greater reliance on toxicologic studies to develop national policies to reduce chemical exposures that may be associated with breast cancer. Substantial research progress in the last 5 years suggests that the investigation of environmental pollutants will lead to strategies to reduce breast cancer risk.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Databases, Factual
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Female
  • Humans


  • Environmental Pollutants