Background: Household cleaning and pesticide products may contribute to breast cancer because many contain endocrine disrupting chemicals or mammary gland carcinogens. This population-based case-control study investigated whether use of household cleaners and pesticides increases breast cancer risk.
Methods: Participants were 787 Cape Cod, Massachusetts, women diagnosed with breast cancer between 1988 and 1995 and 721 controls. Telephone interviews asked about product use, beliefs about breast cancer etiology, and established and suspected breast cancer risk factors. To evaluate potential recall bias, we stratified product-use odds ratios by beliefs about whether chemicals and pollutants contribute to breast cancer; we compared these results with odds ratios for family history (which are less subject to recall bias) stratified by beliefs about heredity.
Results: Breast cancer risk increased two-fold in the highest compared with lowest quartile of self-reported combined cleaning product use (Adjusted OR = 2.1, 95% CI: 1.4, 3.3) and combined air freshener use (Adjusted OR = 1.9, 95% CI: 1.2, 3.0). Little association was observed with pesticide use. In stratified analyses, cleaning products odds ratios were more elevated among participants who believed pollutants contribute "a lot" to breast cancer and moved towards the null among the other participants. In comparison, the odds ratio for breast cancer and family history was markedly higher among women who believed that heredity contributes "a lot" (OR = 2.6, 95% CI: 1.9, 3.6) and not elevated among others (OR = 0.7, 95% CI: 0.5, 1.1).
Conclusions: Results of this study suggest that cleaning product use contributes to increased breast cancer risk. However, results also highlight the difficulty of distinguishing in retrospective self-report studies between valid associations and the influence of recall bias. Recall bias may influence higher odds ratios for product use among participants who believed that chemicals and pollutants contribute to breast cancer. Alternatively, the influence of experience on beliefs is another explanation, illustrated by the protective odds ratio for family history among women who do not believe heredity contributes "a lot." Because exposure to chemicals from household cleaning products is a biologically plausible cause of breast cancer and avoidable, associations reported here should be further examined prospectively.