More Diverse Breast Cancer Research is Needed to Combat Racial Disparities

Article Author: Kira Levenson, Biochemistry Major, Class of 2022, POB Science Translator

Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) seem to be everywhere. From our personal care products, to our fast food packaging, these concerning chemicals are found in many of the products we use in our everyday lives. EDCs can migrate from their original product or packaging and enter our bodies, interfering with the function of the endocrine system. This system is vital for human growth, development, reproduction, and more. Concerningly, EDCs can cause health effects even at low levels of chemical exposure, disrupting hormonal regulation for over a significant amount of time. This can lead to long-term, and often irreversible, negative effects on one’s health, such as increasing one’s potential of developing breast cancer. One category of worrisome EDCs is PFAS, short for per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances, yet many PFAS coat products we use, from grease-proof fast food packaging to non-stick pans. Another EDC category of concern is parabens, typically used as a preservative in personal care products. 

A recent manuscript accepted by Endocrinology in March 2022 (Casiano et al.) reviewed recent studies of PFAS and parabens and discussed “health disparities that exist in EDC exposure between populations” and the links of these disparities to breast cancer development. The authors discuss the impact and relevance of these disparities and argue for increased efforts to decrease and prevent exposure gaps. They call for action to address disproportionate EDC exposure to socially disadvantaged populations and effect meaningful structural changes in U.S. policy and law.

The authors are clear about their findings, noting that “breast cancer research continues to lack the inclusion necessary” to equitably treat people and increase survival of underrepresented populations. Increasing evidence points to racial/ethnic disparities in EDC exposure. These gaps between the needs of marginalized communities and the reality of available research further strengthen the need for inclusive EDC exposure research.

Notably, the authors observe that the probability of developing breast cancer in women under 40 “is higher for African Americans than for any other racial/ethnic group” and that “African American women also have a 39% higher risk of dying from breast cancer” than white women. Hispanic/Latinx women were also observed to be at higher risk for EDC exposure and risk of breast cancer development than white women. The authors highlight the structural racism promoting and preserving these disparities including inequities such as access and availability of health services, and environmental factors such as housing and access to healthy food. 

In addition, there are known disparities in marketing and use of personal care products between white women and BIPOC women. Black or African-American women have been known to use straighteners or relaxers in their hair from as early as age 4, while Hispanic/Latinx women are seen to use a number of personal care products from adolescence onward. Additionally, Black or African-American women record the highest rates of hair product use and duration among Black or African-American, white, and Hispanic women, increasing their EDC exposures. More diverse studies are needed to fully understand the various health efffects and impacts of PFAS and paraben exposure. 

Protect Our Breasts stands by the Precautionary Principle, which advises people to limit usage of, or avoid potential EDCs and other harmful substances when there is no concrete evidence that the compounds are not harmful. Although we don’t know all of the information about plastics and their risks, we have enough evidence to take action now.

Whenever you are able, decrease your purchase or use of products containing new or replacement PFAS chemicals, parabens, or other EDCs. Instead of opting for fast food, make use of your kitchen space and prep your own meals to decrease your contact with unnecessary food packaging. Keep a closer eye on what’s in your personal care products by checking the ingredient lists. Visit the EWG SkinDeep Database to check the safety of your hair and other personal care products and find new, safer alternatives! Above all, keep yourself informed and aware of the exposures you may face on a day-to-day basis.

 

Source: Casiano, A. S., Lee, A., Teteh, D., Erdogan, Z. M., & Trevino, L. (2022) Endocrine-disrupting chemicals and breast cancer: Disparities in exposure and importance of research inclusivity, Endocrinology, bqac034, https://doi.org/10.1210/endocr/bqac034

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Disclaimer: The information provided herein is the author’s opinion. Our authors are not scientists. We are not providing medical advice, but simply sharing publicly available information. When we reference data and databases, we do so with the caveat that most are only as good as the data they are based on. While POB strives to make the information as timely and accurate as possible, we make no claims, promises, or guarantees about the completeness, or adequacy of the contents of any site that is shared, and expressly disclaims liability for errors and omissions in the contents of these sites. POB goes to great lengths to avoid declaring shared products as “safe” as there is no legal definition of the word “safe” at this time.



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