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Environmental exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls and breast cancer risk.

Reviews on environmental health

Risk Factors, Breast Neoplasms, chemically induced, Case-Control Studies, Environmental Exposure, adverse effects, Environmental Pollutants, Female, Humans, Polychlorinated Biphenyls, Research Design, Retrospective Studies

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      Abstract

      Breast cancer is a major public health problem in the United States and in most industrialized countries. Although epidemiologic studies have identified a number of established risk factors for this disease, these factors explain only a small proportion of breast cancer incidence. Environmental exposure has been implicated in breast cancer etiology because of the vast geographic variation in breast cancer incidence rates across countries and regions within countries. Further, the steady increase in breast cancer rates over the past decades points to a potential role of environmental exposure in its development. One suspected environmental factor is the polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which were manufactured commercially for a variety of industrial applications from the 1930s until the 1970s. PCBs have been associated with estrogenic, tumor promoting, and immunosuppressive activities, all of which are relevant in the development of breast cancer. The purpose of this review is to summarize the growing body of epidemiological evidence on the association between environmental PCB exposure and breast cancer risk. Three major types of study design have been used to investigate such a relation: clinic-based case-control studies, retrospective case-control studies, and nested case-control studies. Although findings from clinic-based case-control studies tend to point to an adverse effect of high PCB body burden on risk, the results from the more methodologically sound retrospective and nested studies do not provide strong support for a role of PCBs in breast cancer development. The association between PCB exposure and risk among racially and genetically susceptible subgroups may warrant further investigation. Methodological challenges in the design and analysis of epidemiologic studies on PCBs and breast cancer risk are discussed.

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