Puberty is a period of significant growth and development, which may make us more susceptible to EDCs.

During puberty, the female body changes significantly, with the breast developing to maturity and the menstrual period starting.

Females who start puberty before eight years old have an increased breast cancer risk.

The link between exposure to EDCs and the age at which puberty starts is still unclear.

Hormonal contraceptives, such as “the pill”, can slightly increase breast cancer risk.

Our tips to reduce your risk

Avoid cosmetics and perfumes that contain EDCs, look for fragrance-free or paraben/phthalate-free if possible.

Eat more fruit and vegetables and limit eating fast food.

Use period products made with organic cotton rather than plastic.

Avoid clothes that are stain-resistant or waterproof.

Stay active.

What is puberty?

Puberty is a time of significant growth and physical changes. It usually starts between eight and 13 years old for females and between nine and 14 years old for males.

What are the main changes in females during puberty?

The start of menstrual periods and the development of the breast are the main changes in females. These are controlled by hormones, mainly oestrogen.

EDCs can interfere with the normal function of hormones and may have an impact on puberty and breast development.

Is there a link between the age at puberty and breast cancer risk?

Starting menstrual periods early (before 10 years old) and developing breasts early (before eight years old) have been linked with an increased risk of breast cancer.

Studies have shown that girls are now starting puberty at a younger age than girls who were born in the 1970s. With puberty starting at a younger age, the exposure to oestrogen throughout life is lengthened. Prolonged exposure to oestrogen is believed to increase breast cancer risk.

Does exposure to EDCs affect when puberty starts?

So far, studies looking at EDC effects on the age at puberty have been inconclusive. More research is needed to explore the link between EDC exposure, and puberty and how this may affect breast cancer risk.

Oral contraceptives

Oral contraceptives are a type of medicine that prevents pregnancy by stopping the release of eggs from the ovaries.

The combined contraceptive pill (“the pill”) contains two synthetic hormones, oestrogen and progestogen. Progestogen is a man-made form of the hormone progesterone. The “mini-pill” contains only progestogen.

Do oral contraceptives increase breast cancer risk?

Studies have shown that taking the combined contraceptive pill (“the pill”) slightly increases breast cancer risk. This risk is no longer evident 10 years after use has stopped.

Other studies suggest that progestogen-only oral contraceptives (“mini-pill”), may not be associated with breast cancer risk, however, a study from 2023 has shown a small increase in risk.

Are other types of hormonal contraceptives linked to breast cancer?

Other types of hormonal contraceptives include patches and vaginal rings, which use both oestrogen and progestogen. Injections, implants and intrauterine devices (IUDs, such as the Mirena coil) contain only progestogen.

Fewer studies have looked at the link between these types of contraceptives and breast cancer risks. However, the risks for some of these (progestogen-only) may be similar to those associated with oral contraceptives.

For more details and references, please see our Critical Windows of Susceptibility for Breast Development science review.

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