Researchers have long known that both genetic and environmental factors can increase breast cancer risk. And while both factors warrant further research, environmental factors are more readily identified and modified than genetic factors and, therefore, present a tremendous opportunity to prevent breast cancer. Furthermore, the large majority of cases occur in women with no family history of breast cancer.
Yet only a fraction of federal research funding has gone toward examining links between breast cancer and the environment. But that may soon change.
In 2008 Congress passed the Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Act which established the Interagency Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Coordinating Committee (IBCERCC), which was charged with making recommendations to close the knowledge gaps in our understanding of the environmental causes of breast cancer.
Now, after a review of the state of the science, current programs, and investments by federal agencies and nongovernmental organizations, as well as relevant communication efforts and policies, the IBCERCC offers seven recommendations to usher in coordinated, targeted efforts to identify and mitigate the environmental causes of breast cancer.
1) Prioritize Prevention with a national breast cancer prevention strategy to prioritize and increase federal government investments in breast cancer prevention.
2) Transform How Research is Conducted as the complexity of breast cancer necessitates increased investment in a transdisciplinary approach.
3) Intensify the Study of Chemical and Physical Factors to close the knowledge gap about potential risk factors. This includes certain chemicals, such as endocrine disruptors, and physical agents, such as low-dose radiation.
4) Plan Strategically Across Federal Agencies so that federal, state, and nongovernmental organizations coordinate and collaborate to accelerate the pace of scientific research on breast cancer and the environment.
5) Engage Public Stakeholders and affected communities at every stage of the research planning, implementation, and translation process.
6) Train Transdisciplinary Researchers so they have the skills necessary to function in a transdisciplinary environment.
7) Translate and Communicate Science to Society to enhance primary prevention of new breast cancer cases.
The ultimate goal, wrote the committee, is to seek a greater understanding of the environmental and genetic factors that influence risk, susceptibility, and the progression of the disease. They believe their recommendations provide a vision toward reducing or eliminating environmental exposures and modifying social and lifestyle factors implicated in breast cancer.
They added that a sustained coordination across research and regulatory agencies, as well as nongovernmental organizations, will be necessary to achieve this vision.
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences