Scientific evidence has found another link between the chemicals in our environment and changes in our natural biological process. At least 17 common chemicals found in everyday life have been shown to cause breast cancer in laboratory rats, and is likely to show similar effects in women, according to scientists at Harvard School of Public Health and the Silent Spring Institute, an organization focused on the environment and women’s health.

"Unfortunately, the link between toxic chemicals and breast cancer has largely been ignored. Reducing chemical exposures could save many, many women's lives, said Julia Brody, the study’s co-author and executive director of the Silent Spring Institute.

A study with a list of chemicals to avoid and recommendations to live by have been published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives on Monday in order to help women minimize their exposure. The chemicals are found both indoor and outdoor, everywhere from vehicle exhausts to byproducts in drinking waters.

"The study provides a road map for breast cancer prevention by identifying high-priority chemicals that women are most commonly exposed to and demonstrate how to measure exposure," said Ruthann Rudel, the study’s lead author and research director of the Silent Spring Institute.

The American Cancer Society estimates there will be about 232,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed to women in 2014. By the end of the year, an additional 40,000 women will die from breast cancer. It is the most common cancer among women in the United States, aside from skin cancers. Researchers hope that the study will serve as a tool to decrease their cancer risk by providing recommendations on how and what to avoid.

"This information will guide efforts to reduce exposure to chemicals linked to breast cancer, and help researchers study how women are being affected," Rudel said.

Watch Out for These Every Day Household Items:

  • Benzene and butadiene: can come in the form of vehicle exhaust, lawn equipment, tobacco smoke, and charred food.
  • Methylene chloride: used as a propellant in aerosols for products such as paints, automotive parts, and insect sprays.
  • Carcinogens in drinking water
  • Pharmaceuticals used in hormone replacement therapy
  • Flame retardants
  • Chemicals in stain-resistant textiles and nonstick coatings
  • Styrene: found in tobacco smoke and is also used to make Styrofoam

7 Recommendations from the Study:

  1. Limit exposure to exhaust from vehicles and generators as much as possible. Don’t idle your car, and instead of gas-powered products, use electric lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and weed whackers.
  2. Don’t buy furniture with polyurethane foam or make sure the furniture hasn’t been treated with flame retardants, so you’re not sitting around in harmful chemicals.
  3. Avoid stain-resistant rugs, furniture, and clothing fabrics. Besides it being harmful to your health, the chemicals eventually wear out and leave a lesser quality fiber.
  4. Make sure to drop your clothes off at a drycleaners that doesn’t use perchloroethylene (PERC) or other solvents. Since 1992, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been trying to reduce the exposure to PERC. Currently 34,000 commercial drycleaners use PERC as a cleaning solvent. Instead, ask for “wet cleaning,” which uses a gentle washing machine and is considered the safest method of garment cleaning by the EPA.
  5. Use a solid carbon block drinking water filter. Purchase a stainless steel drinking water filter, which is effective in reducing more than 60 types of contaminants.
  6. Use a ventilation fan while cooking to decrease smoke inhalation and limit how much burned or charred food you eat. Burned food will form a chemical called acrylamide, and the consumption could double the risk of cancer for women.
  7. Keep outdoor chemicals outdoors. Take off your shoes when you walk into the house and use a vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to remove air particles and bioaerosols that could be dangerous to inhale. Clean with wet rags or mops to remove chemicals that could persist on floor.

"Every woman in America has been exposed to chemicals that may increase her risk of getting breast cancer," Brody said.

The study is also the first of its kind to not only list the potential breast cancer carcinogens, but also provide detailed ways for experts to measure them in women’s blood and urine. The paper has been described as a “terrific” resource for epidemiologists whose research is centered around the environmental causes of breast cancer.

"This paper is a thorough review of toxicology data and biomarkers relevant to breast cancer in humans," said Dale Sandler, chief of epidemiology at the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Source: Rudel R, Brody J, et al. New Exposure Biomarkers as Tools For Breast Cancer Epidemiology, Biomonitoring, and Prevention: A Systematic Approach Based on Animal Evidence. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2014.