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Breast Cancer May be Triggered by Household Chemicals

Does early exposure to chemicals contained in some common household products increase a woman's chances of developing breast cancer later in life? UAB has received $2 million from the National Institutes of Health to study this elusive piece of the breast cancer puzzle.

"Exposure to environmental chemicals during a female's prenatal and pre-teen periods of development may play an important role in cancer susceptibility later in life," says UAB pharmacologist/toxicologist Coral Lamartiniere, Ph.D.

Researchers use animal models to determine how certain compounds affect breast cell development. They study common compounds found in products such as PVC piping, plastic wrapping and canned foods.
Until new findings are published, woman may choose to stick to a diet high in soy which may help protect against breast cancer. Studies show that the risk of breast cancer is six times higher for American women than for women who live in Asian countries where soy foods are commonly eaten.

Soy foods - soy milk, tofu and soy nuts - contain isoflavones, a weak form of estrogen that mimics naturally occurring estrogen. Genistein, a specific isoflavone, had been thought to reduce the risk of breast cancer.

Isoflavones have become so popular that they are now available as diet supplements. But research on the effectiveness and safety of isoflavone supplements is contradictory. Some studies suggest that taking isoflavones may help prevent breast cancer. Other studies suggest that consuming genistein may carry some risk of actually promoting breast cancer.

Soy foods have been eaten safely for centuries and can help improve cholesterol levels and promote heart health. But for now, no one knows how beneficial or safe it is to use isoflavones as a diet supplement.