Too little of the money the federal government spends on breast cancer research goes toward finding environmental causes of the disease and ways to prevent it, according to a new report from a group of scientists, government officials and patient advocates established by Congress to examine the research.
The report, "Breast Cancer and the Environment - Prioritizing Prevention" published on Tuesday, focuses on environmental factors, which it defines broadly to include behaviors, like alcohol intake and exercise; exposures to chemicals like pesticides, industrial pollutants, consumer products and drugs; radiation; and social and socioeconomic factors.
The 270-page report notes that scientists have long known that genetic and environmental factors contribute individually and also interact with one another to affect breast cancer risk. Studies of women who have moved from Japan to the United States, for instance, show that their breast cancer risk increases to match that of American women. Their genetics have not changed, so something in the environment must be having an effect. But what? Not much is known about exactly what the environmental factors are or how they affect the breast.
Jeanne Rizzo, another member of the committee and a member of the Breast Cancer Fund, an advocacy group, said there was an urgent need to study and regulate chemical exposures and inform the public about potential risks. "We're extending life with breast cancer, making it a chronic disease, but we're not preventing it," she said. "We have to look at early life exposures, in utero, childhood, puberty, pregnancy and lactation," Ms. Rizzo said. "Those are the periods when you get set up for breast cancer. How does a pregnant woman protect her child? How do we create policy so that she doesn't have to be a toxicologist when she goes shopping?" (NY Times)