Avoid These Things to Lower Your Breast Cancer Risk

Scientists identify highest-priority toxic chemicals to target for breast cancer prevention.

May 14, 2014


Lower your breast cancer risk by avoiding certain everyday chemicals—that's the message of a new study published in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) journal, Environmental Health Perspectives.


Because the study found that animal tests are able to predict likely human breast carcinogens, the new report could serve as a major step forward in breast cancer prevention, expanding the list of possible breast cancer triggers. That's especially important because only about 10 percent of breast cancers are genetic in nature—scientists believe environment plays a huge role.

The new study also documents how to test for the presence of priority chemicals in women's bodies, opening the door to more targeted studies looking at chemicals and their connection to triggering breast cancer. In fact, the National Institutes of Health will incorporate the study's recommendations as it prepares to test samples of about 50,000 in a major breast cancer study.

"The study provides a road map for breast cancer prevention by identifying high-priority chemicals that women are most commonly exposed to and demonstrates how to measure exposure," says study author Ruthann Rudel, MS, research director at the Silent Spring Institute. "This information will guide efforts to reduce exposure to chemicals linked to breast cancer, and help researchers study how women are being affected.

The study identified more than a dozen types of chemicals flagging them as "high priority" because they are common and consistently cause mammary tumors in animal studies.

"Every woman in America has been exposed to chemicals that may increase her risk of getting breast cancer. Unfortunately, the link between toxic chemicals and breast

cancer has largely been ignored," says Julia Brody, PhD, study author and executive director at Silent Spring Institute. "Reducing chemical exposures could save many, many women's lives."

Based on the available science, the report says there's enough evidence for women to start avoiding these things to potentially lower breast cancer risk:

Charred Food
Burning food or heating cooking oils to their smoking points could unleash nasty carcinogens into your air and food.

Where is it: On your food and in your air after overcooking food.

Avoid it: Use a ventilation fan when you cook, cook on your back burners, and limit consumption of burned or charred food.

This material may serve as a helpful type of insulation when it comes to reducing energy bills, but you should avoid eating or drinking anything out of this material, now dubbed as "reasonably anticipated human carcinogen."

Where is it? Styrofoam cups and takeout containers; tobacco smoke

Avoid it: Drink your coffee out of reusable, food-grade stainless steel containers; stop smoking.

Toxic Couches
The good news is more affordable flame-retardant-free couches are on the horizon, but may not be readily available yet.

Where is it? In most polyurethane foam used in furniture

Avoid it: Call the manufacturer and see if the foam in a model you like is coated in flame retardants. (California's decision to repeal its requirement that foam in furniture be flame resistant is expected to result in an increased availability of flame retardant-free furniture across the U.S.)

Stain-Resistant, Non-Stick Stuff
With links to thyroid disease, obesity, and cancer, it's best to give this chemical the boot.

Where is it: Stain-resistant rugs, furniture, and fabrics; nonstick pots and pans

Avoid it: Cook using non-treated stainless steel or cast iron; avoid carpeting, furniture treatments, or clothing that makes "stain repellent" claims.

Toxic Dry-Cleaning Chemicals
Dubbed a "probable" human carcinogen with ties to liver, kidney, and nervous system damage, it's best to ditch perchloroethylene dry cleaning and use other, safer options.

Where is it: Spewing from many dry cleaning facilities; on your clothing

Avoid it: Find a dry-cleaner that doesn't use PERC or other solvents; ask for "wet cleaning," or use these tips for dealing with dry-clean-only clothing.

Contaminants in Unfiltered Drinking Water
Water disinfection by-products and chemical farming chemicals could contaminate your drinking water.

Where is it: Coming out of your kitchen faucet or refrigerator

Avoid it: Purchase an NSF-approved solid carbon block drinking water filter. Do not use bottled water—a recently study found bottle water contains nearly 25,000 different chemicals.

Gas and Exhaust Fumes
Gasoline and chemicals formed by combustion (benzene and butadiene) are among the largest sources of mammary carcinogens in the environment.

Where is it: In gas cans in your basement or attached garage; in exhaust from diesel or other fuel combustion, including your vehicles and lawn equipment.

Avoid it: Support anti-idling and fuel efficiency regulations. Also, don't idle your car, and opt for electric rather than gas- powered lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and weed whackers. Don't burn scented candles, either. Researchers found that releases benzene into your indoor air.

Chemical-Laced Dust Bunnies
Many of the chemicals on the report's high-priority list wind up in household dust, which acts like a magnet and sucks in microscopic amounts toxic compounds.

Where is it: Household dust

Avoid it: Remove shoes at the door, vacuum with a HEPA filter, and clean with a damp rag or mop.

Cigarette Smoke
There are probably hundreds of reasons to quit smoking or protect yourself from secondhand smoke, but here are a few more. The smoke contains cancer-causing materials like styrene, benzene, and 1,3-Butadiene, the same things found in Styrofoam cups and tailpipe exhaust.  

Where is it: In cigarette smoke

Avoid it: Quit smoking and do your best to stay out of homes, restaurants, and bars that allow smoking.

Ink-Jet Printers
Many printers spew aromatic amines, benzidine and aniline dyes, and combustion products that are linked to cancer.

Where is it: In printing areas around the home and office.

Avoid it: Avoid printing unless absolutely necessary—share files online instead. If you must print, do it in a well-ventilated area.

Your Driveway Sealant
Banned for use on roadways, coal tar sealants are still available use on blacktop in home driveways and parking lots. The toxic PAHs readily convert to dust. 

Where is it: Private driveways, playgrounds, and parking lots; in dust tracked into your home or blown through open windows.

Avoid it: If you're coating your own driveway, make sure you opt for asphalt sealant that is free of any coal tars. Lobby businesses to also use safer sealants. If you're installing a new driveway, it's best to choose gravel or some other permeable surface.  

Grilled Meat
Heterocyclic amines and PAHs created when grilling meat are linked to cancer.

Where is it: Meat cooked on an open flame.

Avoid it: Eat less meat in general to enjoy a lower risk of cancer. If you do cook meat, use these herb and spice tricks to reduce the formation of carcinogens.

For more ways to slash your risk of cancer, read How to Cancerproof Your Environment