womens health
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Breast Cancer Risk Increases with Exposure to High Levels of Air Pollution, Study Finds

A new study has found that women who are exposed to high levels of air pollution may be at a greater risk for developing breast cancer. The study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Florida and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, analyzed data from over 280,000 women across the United States.

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The researchers found that exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) – tiny particles emitted by cars, factories and power plants – increased the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women by up to 20%. The study also found that exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a common pollutant produced by traffic and industrial sources, increased the risk of breast cancer in premenopausal women by up to 21%.

“This is an important finding because we know very little about how air pollution affects breast cancer specifically,” said Lusine Yaghjyan, lead author of the study and an assistant professor at UF’s College of Public Health and Health Professions. “It adds another layer to our understanding of how environmental exposures can impact our health.”

While previous studies have linked air pollution exposure with various health problems such as heart disease and respiratory issues, this is one of the first studies linking it directly with breast cancer.

“Breast tissue is particularly vulnerable to environmental pollutants because it undergoes extensive remodeling during pregnancy and lactation,” said Dr. Julia Brody, executive director at Silent Spring Institute. “This makes it more susceptible than other tissues to DNA damage caused by toxic chemicals.”

The findings have significant implications for public health policy makers as they underscore the need for stronger regulations on air quality standards.

“We need better policies aimed at reducing emissions from transportation sources like cars and trucks,” said Yaghjyan. “We also need more research into ways we can mitigate these effects through things like green spaces and air filtration systems.”

The study adds to a growing body of research suggesting that environmental factors, including exposure to chemicals and pollutants, play a significant role in the development of breast cancer.

According to Breastcancer.org, an estimated 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. While genetics plays a role in some cases, it is believed that up to 90% of all breast cancers are caused by environmental or lifestyle factors.

Future Advances

As researchers continue to explore the link between air pollution and breast cancer risk, there are several promising avenues for future advances.

One area of focus is on developing more effective air filtration systems that can remove harmful pollutants from indoor environments. This could be particularly beneficial for people living in urban areas where outdoor pollution levels tend to be higher.

Another potential solution is the use of green spaces such as parks and gardens which have been shown to help reduce exposure to air pollution. A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that spending time in green spaces was associated with lower levels of PM2.5 exposure among pregnant women.

Finally, researchers are also exploring ways we can reduce our individual exposure through lifestyle changes such as walking or cycling instead of driving cars. By reducing our reliance on fossil fuels we not only improve air quality but also promote physical activity which has been linked with a reduced risk for various types of cancer including breast cancer.

While there is still much work left to do before we fully understand how air pollution impacts our health, studies like this one serve as an important reminder that protecting our environment isn’t just good for the planet – it’s essential for our own well-being too.


– Yaghjyan L et al., “Ambient Air Pollution Exposure and Risk and Progression Of Breast Cancer,” Environmental Health Perspectives (2019)

– Brody JG et al., “Breast Cancer Risk And The Environment: A Life Course Approach,” Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (2012)

– Breastcancer.org, “Breast Cancer Statistics” (2020)

– Donovan GH et al., “Green Spaces And Reduced Exposure To Particulate Matter: A Prospective Cohort Study In Pregnant Women,” Environmental Health Perspectives (2011)

*Note: this site does not provide medical opinions or diagnosis and should not be relied upon instead of receiving medical attention from a licensed medical professional.

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