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Keywords:

  • environmental;
  • breast cancer;
  • African-American;
  • environment-gene;
  • occupational;
  • risk;
  • susceptibility;
  • vulnerability;
  • gene-environment

Abstract

There are few unequivocably established environmental carcinogens for breast cancer in women. Nevertheless, environmental factors are believed to explain much of the international variation in breast cancer risk and possibly differences among racial/ethnic groups. Along with lifestyle, some adverse exposures may be higher in minority racial/ethnic groups and in underserved populations that experience higher ambient contamination. Associations have been found between environmental agents and breast cancer in subgroups of women who can be identified by common susceptibility traits as well as by timing of exposures at certain milestones of reproductive life. Susceptibility can be defined by social, environmental, and genetic modalities–factors that may predominate in certain racial/ethnic groups but that also transcend racial/ethnic boundaries. For example, genes involved in transcription and estrogen metabolism have rapid variants that are more prevalent among African-Americans, yet risk accompanying metabolic changes from these genes will prevail in all racial/ethnic groups. Lack of reliable exposure assessment remains a principal obstacle to elucidating the role of environmental exposures in breast cancer. Resources must be identified and consolidated that will enable scientists to improve exposure assessment and to assemble studies of sufficient size to address questions regarding exposure, susceptibility, and vulnerability factors in breast cancer. Breast cancer studies should be expanded to examine combinations of chemicals as well as competing or complementary exposures such as endogenous hormones, dietary intake, and behavioral factors. Cancer 2003;97(1 Suppl):289–310. © 2003 American Cancer Society.

DOI 10.1002/cncr.11023