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Your Environment. Your Health.

Understanding the Links between Environmental Exposures and Cancer

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA)

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"Recent studies have made it clear that many cancers, breast cancer in particular, occur primarily due to environmental exposure. However, research has only just begun into the types of exposure and diet that influence cancer and the time of life that an individual is at risk. Recovery Act funds are helping to find new insights into these complex problems by supporting unique projects sponsored by NIEHS that involve researchers, community partners, breast cancer advocates, and outreach experts."
— Les Reinlib, Ph.D., Breast Cancer and the Environment Centers (BCERC) Program Director


NIEHS' commitment

Cancer arises when cells are unable to repair DNA damage and experience abnormal cell growth and division. The process known as metastasis occurs when cancer cells travel to other parts of the body via the bloodstream and replace normal tissue. According to the American Cancer Society, this chronic disease is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. with half of all men and one-third of all women developing some form of cancer during their lifetimes.

The NIEHS is committed to understanding the connection between genetics and environmental exposures with regard to cancer.

Although cancer is responsible for 23% of all deaths in the U.S., millions of Americans have recovered from the disease. People may reduce their chances of getting cancer by employing prevention methods such as having regular screenings and living a healthy lifestyle.

How is the Recovery Act (ARRA) advancing cancer research?

NEIHS Recovery Act funds support projects addressing many research needs in regards to cancer pathways and exposure routes, and also specific cancers such as breast and skin cancer. The relationship between genes, the environment and disease plays a major role in many of the research studies.

Recovery Act Spotlight

Researchers investigating the possible link between environmental exposures and cancer


ResearcherResearch Description
Breast Cancer  
Sandra Z. Haslam
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan
Risk of breast cancer development due to early life environmental exposures
Filling gaps in knowledge of in utero, early life and pubertal environmental exposures on mammary gland development and their influence on future breast cancer risk.
Robert A. Hiatt
University of California
San Francisco, California
Environmental influences on breast cancer
Studying environmental effects of breast cancer by focusing on mammary gland development during puberty when the breast may be especially vulnerable to environmental influences.
Melissa Runge-Morris
Wayne State University
Detroit, Michigan
Toxicity of PCBs (endocrine disruptors) on breast cancer development
Studying how human breast cells may shed light on core mechanisms by which some environmental PCBs accelerate progression of breast cancer development.
 
Colon Cancer  
 Joel B. Mason
Tufts University
Boston, Massachusetts
Relationship of a particular gene variant and colorectal cancer risk
Studying interaction between gene variant C677T and folate and other B-vitamins in the body, and how the combination affects risk of colon cancer.
 
Lung Cancer  
Christopher R. Herzog
Pennsylvania State University
Hershey Med. Ctr., Pennsylvania
Mechanisms of tumor development and lung cancer
Uncovering the mechanism by which tumors progress to malignancy to a better understand lung cancer development and to develop new therapeutic strategies.
 Tapas K. Hazra
University of Texas
Galveston, Texas
Link between genetic mutation and lung cancer susceptibility
Establishing the link between genetic mutation of DNA repair protein NEIL2 and development of lung cancer to provide insight into risks associated with exposure to mutagens.
 
Prostate Cancer  
 Michael D. Henry
University of Iowa
Iowa City, Iowa
Effects of pesticides on prostate cancer progression
Understanding whether exposure to pesticides accelerates prostate cancer progression and establishing an experimental platform for exploring these links.
Gail Prins, Ph.D.
University of Illinois
Chicago, Illinois
Epigenetic basis for prostate cancer following early estrogenic compound exposures
Identifying underlying mechanisms of bisphenol A and determine if exposure during early stages of prostate development increases susceptibility to prostate cancer later in life.
 
Skin Cancer  
Laura A. Hansen
Creighton University
Omaha, Nebraska
Mechanisms of UV-induced skin cancer
Researching basic molecular mechanisms responsible for UV-induced skin cancer development and progression.
Taihao Quan
University of Michigan at Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Protein (CYR61) as a potential mediator of skin cancer
Study to test hypothesis that protein CYR61 regulates collagen stability protecting the skin from sun damage, the leading cause of premature skin aging and skin cancer.
 
Chemical Exposures Related to Cancer
David J. Waxman
Boston University
Boston, Massachusetts
Impacts of endocrine disruptors on female reproductive track and uterine cancer risk
Determining whether pre- and post-natal exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals induces permanent epigenetic changes leading to female reproductive tract abnormalities and increased incidence of uterine cancer.
Karin B. Michels
Brigham and Women's Hospital
Boston, Massachusetts
Association of fetal exposure to endocrine disruptors and cancer risk
Studying epigenetic changes after fetal exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals and the complex association of genes and the environmental in the development of cancer.
Lifang Hou
Northwestern University
Chicago, Illinois
Pesticides exposure may lead to DNA alterations and cancer development
Using a subset of Agricultural Health Study cohort to test hypothesis that exposure to pesticides causes methylation changes in blood cell DNA possibly leading to cancer.
Lynn A. Sheldon
Dartmouth College
Hanover, New Hampshire
Impact of arsenic exposure on gene expression leading to cancer and other diseases
Testing hypothesis that arsenic disrupts gene expression leading to multiple diseases including skin, lung, liver and prostate cancers, and metabolic disorders including hypertension and diabetes.
 
Treatment and Prevention of Cancer
Debbie Mustacich
Oregan State University
Corvallis, Oregon
Use of vitamin E for prevention of occupational induced lung damage
Studying whether high doses of vitamin E supplementation can prevent DNA damage due to occupational exposure to toxin benzo(a)pyrene and other PAHs, reducing risk of lung cancer.
Kristoffer Valerie
Virginia Commonwealth University
Richmond, Virginia
Understanding cell repair may lead to improved cancer therapies
Understanding how the cell balances growth and assesses DNA damage.
Alan J. Townsend
Wake Forest University Health Sciences
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Role of enzymes in fighting cancer causing substances
Studying how glutathione S-transferases (GSTs) expression in normal cellular defends against the toxic effect of certain cancer causing substances such as PAHs (endocrine disruptors).
Mohamed Trebek
Albany Medical College
Albany, New York
Role of calcium and reactive oxygen species in toxicant-induced immune failure
Understanding how the pollutant polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) affects the immune system, which may lead to new therapies for diseases such as cancer and immune system deficiency.
Marie Lynn Miranda
Duke University
Durham, North Carolina
Health disparities leading to high cancer risk
Advancing partnerships to address community concerns over environmental contributors to cancer health disparities among high-risk African American families.
Bhagavatula Moorthy
Baylor College of Medicine
Houston, Texas
Understanding the effects of environmental chemicals may lead to strategies to prevent cancer
Determining the effect of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) on mechanisms of CYP1A1 gene, which may lead to strategies for prevention/treatment of human cancers caused by environmental chemicals.

What else is NIEHS doing in cancer research?

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