Our research

Past research

Our past research has led to changes in policy and practice 

Breast Cancer UK works with leading scientists in the field of breast cancer research, in some cases leading to a change in policy and practice. For example results from our research on bisphenol A substitutes were used to support the introduction of a new bill by the State of New York to prevent children from being exposed to these harmful chemicals. Our research grants focus on understanding the environmental and chemical causes of breast cancer and identifying what increases our risk of breast cancer. 

Effect of EDCs on breast density

Professor Valerie Speirs and PhD student Ms Kerri Palmer at University of Aberdeen

Breast Cancer UK and Animal Free Research UK are proud to have jointly funded an exciting research study examining how bisphenol A (BPA) affects breast density and contributes to breast cancer development. Having a high breast density is a strong independent risk factor for breast cancer and is defined as having a higher proportion of fibrous and glandular tissue compared to fat tissue. How BPA acts to influence breast cancer risk isn’t completely understood. However, findings from this study indicate fat tissue may be involved in BPA’s potential contribution to breast cancer. Meanwhile, BPA may also affect breast density to influence breast cancer risk. The study also identified differences in the size of fat cells between breast cancer tissues of high and low breast density. A 3D model of a normal breast was also produced to use pre-clinically for assessing how chemicals such as BPA may influence breast cancer risk.

Final project report

Investigating the role of Oxysterols in Breast Cancer

Dr James Thorne and PhD student Mr Alex Websdale at University of Leeds

Statins on clipboard

The PhD research project explains how oxysterols, which are produced when cholesterol is broken down by the body, can increase resistance to chemotherapy drugs and lead to triple negative breast cancer recurrence. Breast tumours consist of several cell types, including non-cancer cells known as fibroblasts. When fibroblasts are in direct contact with triple negative breast cancer cells they produce compounds which enter cancer cells which result in chemotherapy drugs being pumped out of these cells. This means the tumour becomes resistant to chemotherapy. The results of the research suggest triple negative breast cancer patients may benefit from therapies that reduce circulating cholesterol levels (and as a consequence, oxysterol production inside tumours), such as statin therapy.

Final project report

The link between bisphenols and breast cancer

Dr Michael Antoniou and Dr Robin Mesnage from King’s College London

Different bisphenols are increasingly being used as replacements for bisphenol A (BPA) in the manufacture of certain types of plastics, including those used in food and drink packaging, and in linings of takeaway boxes. As a result, we are regularly exposed to low concentrations of different bisphenols. This study evaluated the carcinogenic activity of bisphenol mixtures in cultures of human breast epithelial cells. The findings showed that exposure to these can alter the function of many genes leading to interference of many biochemical pathways, including the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway (UPP); dysregulation of UPP may affect breast cancer development and progression.

Project summary

The role of nuclear receptors in breast cancer  

Dr Laura Matthews, the University of Leeds  

Nuclear receptors are cellular proteins that regulate diverse functions such as cell multiplication and metabolism. This study compared nuclear receptor activity in normal breast tissue and different types of breast cancer tissue. Seven nuclear receptors which play a role in triple-negative breast cancer were identified. Over 200 chemicals were predicted to alter nuclear receptor activity in a similar way to changes seen in triple-negative breast cancer. Many of these chemicals, including pesticides and disinfectants, were experimentally tested, and shown to increase breast cell multiplication and therefore may increase breast cancer risk.  

Project summary

Testing oestrogenicity of glyphosate

Dr. Michael Antoniou from King’s College London

The herbicide glyphosate is listed by the World Health Organisation as a probable cause of cancer. This research examined whether glyphosate could act as an oestrogen mimic which may affect breast cancer risk. Glyphosate was shown to be oestrogenic at high concentrations, but not at exposure levels normally encountered by the general population. Glyphosate-containing herbicides were not oestrogenic. Glyphosate-based herbicides are unlikely to affect breast cancer risk by acting as oestrogen mimics. 

Project summaryFinal Project Report

Measurement of oxysterols in breast tissue

Dr. James Thorne, at Leeds University

Oxysterols are chemicals thought to be associated with increased risk, recurrence, and spread of breast cancer. The research developed a novel method of measuring multiple oxysterols in breast tissue samples and in cell culture. Crucially, it only requires a very small amount of tissue; less than that from a typical biopsy. The method used liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry.  

Project summaryFinal Project Report

Effects of low-dose EDC mixtures

Dr. Elisabete Silva, at Brunel University

Low, environmentally relevant, concentrations of four endocrine disrupting chemicals added to breast cells grown in 3-dimensional cell culture caused changes resembling early-stage breast cancer. The EDCs tested included a preservative, propylparaben, a plastics component, BPA, the banned herbicide DDT, and a UV filter, benzophenone-3. When chemical mixtures were added to cell cultures, changes to breast tissue were even more significant. 

Project summaryFinal Project Report

Hormone disrupting properties of bisphenols & herbicides

Dr. Michael Antoniou from King’s College London

Bisphenol A (BPA) is used in the production of polycarbonate plastics, resins, and thermal ink. It is now classified by the EU as a reproductive toxicant and an endocrine-disrupting chemical due to its oestrogenic activity and is being replaced in plastics production by other bisphenols. Six bisphenol substitutes were tested for their oestrogenic activity and each was able to promote breast cancer cell growth through oestrogen receptors. Bisphenol AF, bisphenol B, and bisphenol Z were more oestrogenic than BPA. 

Project summaryFinal Project Report

 Measurement of UV filters in breast tissue

Professor Philippa Darbre at Reading University

This research measured UV filters in human breast tissue taken from patients with breast cancer.  Four different UV filters were measured in samples from 40 women with primary breast cancer. One or more UV filters were measurable in 84% of breast tissue samples and in at least one breast region for 95% of women. Each of these UV filters is known to be oestrogenic, and their presence in breast tissue suggests a potential for them to influence breast cancer development. 

Project summaryFinal Project Report

Oestrogenicity of anti-aging face creams

Professor Ana Soto, from Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts

Breast Cancer UK commissioned a pilot study that examined whether anti-aging face creams demonstrated oestrogenic activity in an in vitro assay known as the E-SCREEN assay. The research also investigated whether known endocrine-disrupting chemicals were present. Five popular UK anti-ageing creams were tested. All creams had oestrogenic activity and contained known oestrogenic compounds; some of these compounds were not included on the ingredients list. 

Project summary

Help fund our animal-free research

By understanding the causes of breast cancer we can reduce the chances of our loved ones being diagnosed in the future. By making a donation you can feel proud of helping our scientists to conduct their crucial work. Thank you.