There are many chemicals in your environment that can influence your risk of getting breast cancer. Some of these cause cancer by damaging your DNA – these are known as carcinogens. Others affect your hormone system and are known as Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs). These can be found in everyday products such as cosmetics, cleaning sprays and even furniture. EDCs interfere with the normal functioning of your hormones. In particular, those that interfere with the natural hormone oestrogen may increase your breast cancer risk. For more details see our further reading on EDCs.
Try to be cautious when it comes to potentially harmful chemicals and cut down your exposure whenever you can, to reduce the overall chemical burden on your body. Also, check out our A to Z of Chemicals of Concern and our list of chemicals in cosmetics we recommend you avoid. For a more detailed list of chemicals covering additional health risks please see list compiled by the Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals here.
In cosmetics, endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are often used to prolong shelf life. They’re also used as fragrances or solvents. Many don’t add to the effectiveness of the product. EDCs can be found in a wide range of cosmetics including:
Read our guide to EDCs, and see our list of chemicals in cosmetics we recommend you avoid, our Ditch the Junk leaflet on chemicals in cosmetics and our A to Z of Chemicals of Concern. Worried about how these chemicals can end up in consumer products? Check out what we are doing to campaign against them.
Be aware of what you’re buying. Don’t presume labels such as ‘Natural’, ‘Chemical-free’ or ‘Green’ are free from endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). Whenever possible try to:
Some household cleaning products contain EDCs which may be linked to breast cancer. These can be anything from detergents to cleaning sprays. Using these products could increase your exposure to EDCs, either by inhaling them, or getting them on your skin.
Look to avoid products containing them and be aware of what ingredients normal household products contain.
Your home may be a source of many potentially harmful chemicals, from flame retardants in your furniture or carpets, to non-stick compounds and plasticisers in the plastic cookware you use in the kitchen.
These are chemicals used in consumer and industrial products to help prevent fires starting or to delay their spread. Some flame retardants pose a risk to human health . They include brominated flame retardants (BFRs), chlorinated flame retardants, and organophosphorus flame retardants. Compared to the rest of the EU, the UK has the highest recorded levels of flame retardants in human body fluids and breast milk. Flame retardants can often be found in:
Further reading on flame retardants.
PFAS are chemicals used in non-stick cookware (like Teflon), in food packaging, and as stain repellents in carpets and textiles. Certain PFAS are classified as “possibly carcinogenic” by the International Agency for Cancer Research and have been linked to many other health problems.
Not all plastics contain potentially harmful chemicals, however some contain EDCs. They may be used in plastics production, or as plasticisers which are added later to make plastics soft. Examples include BPA and other bisphenols such as: BPS – used to make polycarbonate plastic, resins that line metal cans, CDs and thermal till receipts; and phthalates – used as plasticisers in PVC.
There is increasing evidence that exposure to high levels of polluted air may increase breast cancer risk.
Early exposures during pregnancy, infancy and teenage years may be especially harmful. Sources of outdoor air pollution include road traffic, industry and farming activities.
Small particles from building fibres, biological contaminants and chemical contaminants from tobacco smoke, household items and cleaning products may all contribute to polluted indoor air.
Further reading on air pollution.
Reduce your exposure to air pollution by cutting down on your use of pesticides and cleaning products that contain harmful ingredients.
Studies have shown that exposure to certain banned pesticides increases the risk of breast cancer.
Pesticides currently in use, such as glyphosate (a weed killer) and malathion (used to kill insects), may also increase breast cancer risk, although more studies are needed to confirm this.
Pesticides can act as breast carcinogens, interfere with the development of mammary glands and make us more susceptible to breast cancer, or interfere with oestrogen.
Eating organic food reduces pesticide exposure.
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