Report Says Breast Cancer Research Needs New Priorities

Focusing research on environmental causes of the disease could help to prevent it, report says.

Environmental risksPhoto via Shutterstock

More time and effort needs to be spent studying the environmental causes of breast cancer and how they can be minimized or eliminated to prevent the disease, according to a new report from the Interagency Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Coordinating Committee (IBCRECC).

The report, called “Breast Cancer and the Environment—Prioritizing Prevention,” says that if environmental causes of breast cancer were more adequately studied, it would be far easier to save lives by focusing on preventative measures as opposed to treatment. The report notes that environmental dangers—which a New York Times article says include chemicals, pollutants, consumer products and drugs, radiation, and individual behavior like drinking alcohol—have long been linked to breast cancer, but have not been sufficiently researched. The report says:

There are remarkably few examples of advances in breast cancer prevention, and finding ways to identify and mitigate the environmental causes of the disease has not been a priority. Increased funding would facilitate sustained coordination across research and regulatory agencies, with the objective of reducing or eliminating harmful environmental exposures and modifying social and lifestyle factors implicated in breast cancer.

In addition to putting more effort into preventing the disease, the study offered other recommendations for improving breast cancer research. The report suggested several areas that should be emphasized in future studies, including “mechanisms underlying breast cancer,” epigenetics (genomic shifts that occur over an individual’s lifetime), the environment’s effect on genes, who is most susceptible to the disease, and which chemical and physical factors are most dangerous.

The report also touched on things like streamlining research and funding outlets nationwide, training researchers across multiple disciplines, and increasing engagement with the public. The IBCRECC, which was formed in 2008 as a result of the Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Act, stressed especially that awareness of the risks associated with certain behaviors or environmental exposures must be better communicated to the public. The report says:

It is critical that advocates and other community stakeholders participate in the research translation process to interpret and communicate findings to diverse audiences in ways that facilitate their application to public concerns. Translation, dissemination, and communication of research findings must proactively protect public health and guide the advancement of regulatory policies that create measurable changes in environmental factors linked to breast cancer incidence, morbidity, and mortality.

Though it’s hard to believe the IBCRECC has been around since 2008 and studies such as this one are only emerging now, it’s definitely a step in the right direction. Research like this reminds us that fighting breast cancer takes more than buying a pink ribbon—it’s about making a real, concerted effort at preventing the disease in the first place.