By Amir Khan
The federal government spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year on breast cancer research, but not nearly enough to study prevention methods and the environmental causes of the disease, according to a new report by a Congressionally appointed group of scientists, physicians and patient advocates. The 270-page report outlines the steps needed to bring breast cancer research into the 21st century, starting with prioritizing prevention.
Only about 10 percent of the more than $600 million in federal funds spent on breast cancer research in 2010 — the last year for which data is available — went to studies about prevention and environmental causes, the researchers wrote.
“Breast cancer prevention is underfunded at the federal level, in both research and public health programs, and future investments are needed,” according to the Interagency Breast Cancer & Environmental Research Coordinating Committee report. “There are remarkably few examples of advances in breast cancer prevention, and finding ways to identify and mitigate the environmental causes of the disease has not been a priority.”
One of the keys to breast cancer prevention is identifying and eliminating harmful environmental substances in order to help reduce instances of breast cancer throughout the United States and beyond. One of the ways the report recommends doing so is through the strengthening of the Toxic Substances Control Act, which, when implemented in 1976, grandfathered in more than 62,000 chemicals without any testing requirements. Only 200 of those chemicals have since been tested for health effects, the IBCERCC wrote, and nearly 85 percent of new chemicals listed under the act fail to disclose any health effects.
“As a result of the lack of policy mandates and capacity to fully test chemicals as they come to market, complete toxicological screening data are available for only 7 percent of the more than 84,000 chemicals currently registered for use,” the IBCERCC wrote in the report. “Improving the TSCA is a priority for collecting the data needed to generate and test hypotheses regarding the effects of a wider range of chemicals on breast cancer risk and, ultimately, for preventing environmentally caused disease.”
Better understanding the environmental factors that contribute to breast cancer is necessary to preventing the disease, says Elizabeth Ward, PhD, national vice president of intramural research for the American Cancer Society, which contributed to the report.
“Although there is evidence from toxicologic and epidemiologic studies that radiation and certain exposures can cause breast cancer, the relationship between low level environmental exposures in the US population and breast cancer risk remains unclear,” Ward says in an emailed statement. “It is important to conduct research on potential environmental causes of breast cancer to address public concerns and provide more answers about what causes this disease and how to prevent it."
Andrea Rader, Director of Communications for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, says that preventing breast cancer is of the utmost importance.
“It’s a big issue and a very complex and difficult issue, but we absolutely agree that preventing breast cancer is where we want to be,” she says. “There’s a need for very large scale, large population studies on environmental influences in regards to breast cancer.”
Ultimately, the researchers said a widespread approach at breast cancer prevention is needed. By relying on scientists and physicians from a multitude of disciplines, breast cancer can be beaten once and for all.
“Working together in new ways that bring committed scientists, advocates, and many stakeholders together,” The researchers wrote, “will move us on the path towards a world without breast cancer.”
"Breast Cancer Prevention Vastly Underfunded, Report Finds" originally appeared on Everyday Health.