- Prevention Hub
- About breast cancer
- Reduce Your Risk
- Our research
- Get involved
- About us
Many chemicals in everyday products and the environment affect your risk of breast cancer.
This is due to the growing mix of chemicals you encounter over time, not from any single use of a particular chemical.
Chemicals that affect your risk of breast cancer add to the growing levels of chemicals your body has to deal with. This is called our body burden.
Lowering your body burden will help you
Some types of chemicals are linked to breast cancer by the effects they have on the system that manages hormones in your body – the endocrine system. For this reason, they are called Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs).
EDCs are used in everyday products such as cosmetics, cleaning sprays, packaging, fabrics, and the food chain and last for a very long time in the environment.
However, the harmful effects of EDCs are not as well understood as chemical carcinogens in tobacco, for example, so the risks from EDCs are more hidden, and more research and better public protections against them are needed.
EDCs that affect the natural hormone oestrogen are the most likely to increase breast cancer risk and the ones you should most try to avoid.
Remember it is the combined effect of EDCs over your lifetime and in the environment, not any single use of any one of them that affects breast cancer risk. So make it a healthy habit to always avoid EDCs.
Avoid EDCs as part of an overall healthier lifestyle to help reduce your risk of breast cancer and the chemical burden on your body and the environment.
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:
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 from 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:
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.
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.
2. Grow your own produce. If you have a garden, try growing your own vegetables and fruit. Herbs can be grown on a window sill in small pots too.
3. Wash and/or brush fruit and vegetables well, to help remove pesticide residue.
4. Know which fruits and vegetables are exposed to the highest levels of pesticides. Check out the Dirty Dozen – lists of fruit and vegetables with the most pesticide residues.
5. The best method of pest control in the garden is to keep your plants healthy so they don’t attract bugs. Homemade pesticides are a safe choice and can be made from inexpensive ingredients that most people have in their homes.
Watch our webinar series – Breast Cancer Risk and Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals
Warning: YouTube may contain ads or third-party material not endorsed by Breast Cancer UK
Read our science brief on breast cancer risks.
Help us ban EDCs, and sign our pledge to ban EDCs.
As desperate as we are to understand the causes of breast cancer, we firmly believe that this can be done without harm to animals. Please donate today to help our scientists undertake world-class research. Thank you.
Subscribe to our newsletter for the latest BCUK news & updates