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The effect of environment on breast cancer risk.

Environmental factors are believed to explain a large proportion of breast cancer incidence. Known risk factors for breast cancer, which are related to the reproductive life of women, and other factors, such as inheritance and socioeconomic status, explain only about half of the breast cancer cases in the US. Ionizing radiation is a well established environmental risk factor for breast cancer. Chemicals that induce mammary cancer in rodents have served as leads for studies in humans, but occupational and environmental exposure to these chemicals have for the most part lacked association with breast cancer risk. However, there is recent evidence in rats that cadmium at very low doses acts as an estrogen mimic, indicating a need to investigate the effects of metals on breast cancer risk. Studies suggest that circadian rhythm disruption is linked with breast cancer, but too few studies have been done to be conclusive. Over the years, cigarette smoking as a risk factor for breast cancer has remained controversial. However, recent research has found passive smoke exposure to be associated with increased breast cancer risk, which is hypothesized to be accounted for on the basis of an antiestrogenic effect of smoking. Solar radiation has been noted to be associated with reduced breast cancer, supporting the hypothesis that vitamin D plays a protective role in reducing this risk. Although, most of the environmental factors discussed in this review have not been convincingly found to influence breast cancer risk, research suggests that environmental exposure in combination with genetic pre-disposition, age at exposure, and hormonal milieu have a cumulative effect on breast cancer risk.

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