Our research

Past research

Our past research has lead 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 was 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. 

Oestrogenicity of anti-ageing face creams

Professor Ana Soto, from Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts

Breast Cancer UK commissioned a pilot study which examined whether anti-ageing 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

 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

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

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 was even more significant. 

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

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 concentration, 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

The role of nuclear receptors in breast cancer  

Dr Laura Matthews, the University of Leeds  

Nuclear receptors are cellular proteins which 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

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If you share our concerns about the links between harmful chemicals and breast cancer, please consider donating to help fund our next important project. By understanding the causes of breast cancer we can reduce the chances of our loved ones being diagnosed in the future. By donating now you can feel proud of helping our scientists to conduct their crucial work. Thank you.  

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