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Breast Cancer and the Environment (BCERP)

To help address some of the concerns of residents in Washington, DC about the possible health risk from pollution in their neighborhoods, the community organizations, Earth Conservation Corp and Groundwork Anacostia River, are conducting a research study in conjunction with Georgetown University in Washington, DC and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, MD. Residents would like to know if the high number of cancer cases in the city might be due to contaminants such as metals in their food, water and air. For women in Washington, DC, the rate of new cases and deaths from breast cancer are some of the highest in the nation. Part of our effort will be to work with community members to better understand their concerns and beliefs about the effects of environmental metals on the risk of developing breast cancer and what can be done to reduce mortality from breast cancer among women in Washington, DC.

To help address some of these issues, the study will try to understand if metals in the environment can act like hormones in humans and increase the risk of breast cancer. The study will determine if higher lifetime environmental exposures to metals impacts breast density in women. Getting regular mammograms is still the best screening technique available for women to reduce breast cancer mortality. In addition, the amount of dense breast tissue can be measured on a mammogram and can serve as a marker of breast cancer risk. Animal model studies will determine if the metals act like estrogen and progesterone hormones and increase the risk of developing breast cancer. Working with the community groups, analyzing data from volunteers who are getting their mammograms, and studying the effects of metals on cancer development in animals will help us to better understand how metals in our environment might have an effect on increasing breast cancer risk.

This research is funded as part of the Breast Cancer Environmental Research Program of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health.