How Environmental Quality Can Impact the Incidence Of Breast Cancer


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“Every year, over 200,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in the United States.”

Genetic variations as well as lifestyle factors can impact an individual’s risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetime. It is also believed that environmental factors such as pollutants and toxic chemicals may influence risk, however there is little research on the cumulative impact of these contaminants. A recent study investigated how broader environmental quality itself might have an impact on breast cancer.

The 2023 study, published in the journal Nature, examined the association of breast cancer cases with environmental quality in North Carolina. Environmental quality is a measure of the “cumulative environmental exposures” for the air, water, land, sociodemographic, and built environments in a specific area, as well as in the environment as a whole.

The study found an association between “cumulative environmental quality” and incidences of breast cancer, which differed by stage of disease. Counties with lower environmental quality saw over 10 more breast cancer cases per 100,000 people.

“…higher among counties with poor land quality.”

Additionally, rates of total breast cancer as well as early-stage disease and localized breast cancer were higher among counties with poor land quality. Land quality was specifically significant for all disease stages in urban counties as compared to rural. Poor land quality could include, for example, land treated with fungicides or pesticides, toxic releases including heavy metals as well as pollution from industrial, agricultural and animal facilities.

The study also found that “neither sociodemographic nor water environmental quality had significant associations with breast cancer incidence for any summary stage.” This suggests that air and land contaminants may be more influential factors in the risk of breast cancer development.

“…urbanicity is a significant factor in cancer and environment interactions.”

These findings are notable as they highlight the importance of considering environmental factors in the risk of developing breast cancer. As shown in previous studies as well, urbanicity is a significant factor in cancer and environment interactions. Studying each breast cancer stage individually further provides a better understanding of potential prevention measures and specific environmental risk factors.

Fiona Riddle is a Certified Health Coach with a degree in Psychology from UCLA. She is passionate about a holistic approach to health when working with her private coaching clients. She is an avid cook, constantly creating and sharing new recipes on her Instagram (@feelgoodwithfi) to showcase simple clean home cooking.

This article was reviewed and approved by Emeran Mayer, MD