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Your Environment. Your Health.

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon Exposure And Breast Cancer

Regina Santella, Ph.D., Amy Herring, Sc.D., David Richardson, Ph.D., Lawrence Engel, Ph.D.
Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health
P30ES009089, P30ES010126, T32ES007018

The likelihood of a relationship between vehicular traffic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and breast cancer incidence is strengthened by new research funded in part by NIEHS. The study reported an association between comparatively high long-term exposure to traffic-related PAHs and breast cancer incidence in women, particularly women who consumed low amounts of fruit and vegetables or had hormone receptor-negative tumors.

The researchers assessed residential histories of 1,508 study participants with breast cancer and 1,556 participants with no breast cancer in a population-based study conducted in 1996 and 1997. They reconstructed 1960-1995 traffic exposure estimates of benzo[a]pyrene, a PAH, using a historical, geographic exposure model that was consistent with various environmental measurements. Benzo[a]pyrene is often used as a marker of total PAH exposure.

The study showed that women with the highest exposures to traffic-related benzo[a]pyrene from 1960-1990 had a modestly higher chance of developing breast cancer than women with lower amounts of exposure, (odds ratio of 2.68 compared to 0.78, respectively). The association remained when the researchers looked at just 1995 traffic exposure, with a stronger association among women with low fruit and vegetable intake. Compared to women without breast cancer, the association between breast cancer and traffic-related benzo[a]pyrene exposure was also stronger for women with estrogen/progesterone-negative tumors but lower among all other tumor subtypes.

Although more studies are needed, the new results point to subgroups of women who potentially have greater susceptibility to breast cancer.

Citation: Mordukhovich I, Beyea J, Herring AH, Hatch M, Stellman SD, Teitelbaum SL, Richardson DB, Millikan RC, Engel LS, Shantakumar S, Steck SE, Neugut AI, Rossner P, Santella RM, Gammon MD. 2016. Vehicular traffic-related polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon exposure and breast cancer incidence: The Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project (LIBCSP). Environ Health Perspect. 124(1):30-38.