A new report indicates that more money needs to be spent on discovering the environmental triggers for breast cancer.

It is widely known that certain gene mutations, such as the BRCA gene cluster, can predispose women to the disease, but it is not the complete story. 60% of women with mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are likely to get cancer. But genes alone don't dictate the chance of getting breast cancer; many women who have BRCA mutations do not get cancer and many who don't get breast cancer.

This new report brings the necessity of exploring what in the environment can, by themselves, or coupled with genetic predispositions, lead to the development of breast cancer. Such leading hypotheses for causes include pollutants such as pesticides, molecules in consumer products, alcohol consumption, exercise, drugs and medications, radiation or social and economic factors.

Research published in the 1970's implicated environmental factors rather than genetic predisposition in the risk for breast cancer. Japanese women typically have lower rates of the cancer than white American women. But when Japanese women lived in America for a few years, their rates of breast cancer approached and matched that of white American women. The genes of the women did not change, their environment and the chemicals that they were exposed to did.

"We know things like radiation might cause breast cancer, but we don't know much that we can say specifically causes breast cancer in terms of chemicals," said Michael Gould, a professor of oncology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and a co-chairman of the 23-member committee that prepared the report.

Jeanne Rizzo, another member of the committee said in a press release: "We have to look at early life exposures, in utero, childhood, puberty, pregnancy and lactation, those are the periods when you get set up for breast cancer. How does a pregnant woman protect her child? How do we create policy so that she doesn't have to be a toxicologist when she goes shopping?"

We have discovered the environmental cause of cervical cancer, a virus, and created a vaccine. Why have investigations into the environmental causes of breast cancer not kept pace?

The report on Breast Cancer and the Environemnt can be found here