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Posted at 01:30 PM ET, 12/07/2011

Report outlines environmental risk factors for breast cancer

Is there anything women can do to reduce their risk for breast cancer? Well, the answer is yes, no, and maybe, according to a new report from the National Academy of Sciences.

At the request of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a breast cancer research advocacy group, a 14-member panel of experts assembled by the academy’s Institute of Medicine conducted an exhaustive review of the medical literature about environmental factors that may increase the risk for breast cancer.

More than 230,000 U.S. women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and nearly 40,000 die from the disease. While advances in diagnosing and treating the disease has reduced the toll from breast cancer, many women and experts are anxious to prevent the disease from occurring in the first place.

According to the report, women may be able to reduce their risk by avoiding unnecessary exposure to radiation from unneeded medical tests and combinations of the hormones estrogen and progestin to alleviate the symptoms of menopause. Limiting alcohol consumption and shunning smoking can also help. As always, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly look like good ideas, according to the 364-page report.

In addition, there is some evidence that certain chemicals may increase the risk, such as benzene, ethylene oxide and 1,3-butadiene, which are found in some workplaces, gasoline fumes, exhaust and tobacco smoke.

But the panel noted that despite claims to the contrary, studies have failed to support the notion that hair dyes and emissions from cellphones and other electronic devices are risky. And the jury is still out about the chemical bisphenol A (BPA), which is found in some plastic containers, pesticides, stuff in cosmetics and dietary supplements, according to the report, which was released at the annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

The panel called for more research to find better ways to determine what can reduce the risk.

“Breast cancer develops over many years, so we need better ways to study exposures throughout women’s lives, including when they are very young,” said Irva Hertz-Picciotto of the University of California, Davis, who chaired the panel, in a statement. “We also need improved methods to test for agents that may be contributing to breast cancer risk and to explore the effects of combined exposures.”

Some experts said they were disappointed by the result.

“I’m deeply disappointed by the summary (with its heavy emphasis on individual responsibility) and conservative approach,” said Laura Anderko of Georgetown University Medical Center. “It is in stark contrast to the President’s Cancer Panel report last year that has a strong call to action on chemical policy reform.”

By  |  01:30 PM ET, 12/07/2011

 
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