Experts Call for Federal Government to Increase Breast Cancer Prevention Efforts

The federal government needs to make breast cancer prevention a priority and place funding for prevention at the same level as other types of research, says a new sweeping report issued today by scientists and breast cancer experts.

The report emphasizes that more resources should be directed toward learning more about the relationship between environmental contaminants and breast cancer.

"We can no longer ignore the major gaps in understanding the role of the environment in breast cancer, because we are constantly exposed to combinations of chemicals without knowing whether they could make one at risk for breast cancer," said Michele Forman, chair of the Interagency Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Coordinating Committee (IBCERCC) and epidemiologist at The University of Texas at Austin. "We want this report to be a call to action, to bring awareness to the issue of prevention and move the country forward on this issue. This report is intended to set the stage for a strategic plan in much the same way the 1964 surgeon general's report on smoking tobacco changed how we thought about lung cancer risk."

The IBCERCC, which is composed of breast cancer experts representing academic research, the federal government and advocacy groups, was also led by breast cancer experts Michael Gould of the University of Wisconsin and Jeanne Rizzo of the Breast Cancer Fund.

The report recommends a more extensive examination of the role of environmental agents lifestyle and behavioral factors, chemical and physical agents (such as BPAs), and social and cultural influences in influencing breast cancer risk.

Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has registered more than 84,000 chemicals approved for commercial use, less than 2 percent have been tested for their ability to promote or produce cancer.

Existing research points to critical windows of susceptibility, such as fetal development, puberty and pregnancy, during which environmental factors might play a larger role in promoting irregular development of breast tissue and risk for cancer.

"Our exposure to our environment doesn't happen one exposure at a time; it happens in combinations," said Forman, a national leader in breast cancer research. "We need to be looking at environmental agents at different life stages to identify when exposures lead to risks, and importantly we need to be looking at complex mixtures of environmental agents that occur at the same time."

The IBCERCC report contains comprehensive recommendations intended to realign breast cancer research emphases, placing priority on breast cancer prevention. The report has been submitted to Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of the Department of Health and Human Services and to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

"We believe that the Department of Health and Human Services needs to create an action plan for addressing breast cancer and the environment," said Forman.

Congress passed the Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Act of 2008, which mandated the formation of the IBCERCC and directed the committee to examine the state of breast cancer and the environmental research and to make recommendations for eliminating any knowledge gaps in this area. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Cancer Institute, divisions of the National Institutes of Health, supported the committee's work.

"Our work has presented bold new approaches for innovative research. These recommendations represent a research framework for the next generation of researchers," Forman said.