There is a link between environmental chemicals and breast cancer. Here’s what you can do to protect yourself. While there are several known risk factors for breast cancer – obesity, alcohol use and genetic factors to name a few – some risk factors are still being researched. Scientists are studying the connection between chemicals and breast cancer. Though many studies are inconclusive, there have been some important findings about everyday products and their relationship to breast cancer risk. Women expose themselves to chemicals and toxins every day through products they put on their bodies, cleaners they use in and around the home, chemicals they breathe on the job, and even the foods they eat! Now, eating certain foods or cleaning the house is not going to be the sole reason a woman develops breast cancer, but chemicals may increase the risk of abnormal cell development, which may or may not result in cancer. Prevention is all about making choices that reduce breast cancer risk. Let’s take a closer look at some everyday chemicals and how they relate to breast cancer. Cigarette Smoke and Breast Cancer A number of studies have examined the possible connection between smoking and breast cancer. While the majority of these studies have found that smoking is actually not a breast cancer cause and doesn’t increase risk, a few studies have identified a relationship between the two. In 2006, the U.S. Surgeon General’s report, The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke, found that smoking was linked with not only breast cancer, but also a diagnosis of breast cancer at an unusually young age — younger than age 55. Both mainstream and secondhand smoke contain chemicals that, in high concentrations, cause breast cancer in rodents. Chemicals in tobacco smoke reach breast tissue and are found in breast milk. In any case, this possible link to breast cancer is yet another reason to avoid smoking and/or secondhand smoke. BPA and Breast Cancer Bisphenol-A, or BPA, is a chemical found in many plastic products, including baby bottles, nipples, and pacifiers. It’s already been established that BPA affects the endocrine system and hormones, and now studies are showing that BPA may also be associated with increased breast cancer risk. Research studies have shown that exposure to BPA in babies led to increased breast cell growth and some loss of normal cell death, which could allow abnormal cells to grow. As research continues to point to the harmful effects of BPA on humans, it’s best to avoid them. Many manufacturers have stopped using BPA. Look for plastics labeled “BPA-free” to limit your exposure to this dangerous chemical. Pesticides and Breast Cancer Many pesticides have properties similar to estrogen, which allows breast cancer cells to replicate rapidly and the disease to spread. It seems probable therefore that these chemicals could increase breast cancer risk, although studies have been unable to definitively prove the connection. One study showed that older women exposed to the pesticide DDT and similar compounds were slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than women who weren’t exposed. Researchers couldn’t conclude that the pesticides are a breast cancer cause, but they did find that continued exposure to pesticides along with other risk factors for breast cancer could increase the risk of developing the disease. Parabens and Breast Cancer Parabens are preservatives found in cosmetics, skin care products and antiperspirants. They have been linked to breast cancer because a small study cited by the American Cancer Society found parabens in breast cancer cells. The study could not prove that the parabens caused the cells to develop into tumors or whether other factors besides use of cosmetics could have led to the presence of parabens. Further study is needed to prove or rule out parabens as a possible risk factor or cause of breast cancer, and parabens are not considered a health risk at this time. Women seeking to limit parabens in their beauty routine should look for products labeled “paraben free.” Protecting Yourself Even after decades of research, no one can definitively answer the question “What causes breast cancer?” Many of the studies being conducted regarding chemical exposure and breast cancer risk don’t have concrete answers yet. Prevention, simply put, is about limiting potential risk factors. Many of the chemicals listed are harmful in other ways, so limiting exposure to them is a good idea, even if the breast cancer link is in question. Furthermore, if you are at an increased risk of breast cancer based on known factors, you may want to take extra precaution to avoid being around these potentially toxic chemicals to protect yourself from breast cancer as much as possible.