Breast cancer committee calls for increased prioritization and funding in new report

Alberto Long

Breast cancer prevention needs to be prioritized and funded to the same degree as other areas of cancer research, according to a new report issued by scientists and breast cancer prevention advocates.

The report was issued by the Interagency Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Coordinating Committee which was mandated by Congress in 2008 as part of the Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Act.

Michele Forman, chairwoman of the committee and professor at UT’s department of nutritional sciences, said the report is a call for public health action, comparable to the surgeon general’s report on the effects of tobacco smoke in 1964.

The report calls for a more holistic examination of the environmental factors related to cancer diagnosis and prevention. It reviews the development of breast cancer as it is related to the environment, identifies major knowledge gaps in this area and develops recommendations.

“We must prioritize prevention,” Forman said, “We can no longer ignore the role of the environment; and the ‘environment’ in this sense is very broad. We are talking about lifestyle, diet, physical activity. We talk about chemical and physical agents in consumer products, but we’re also talking about psycho-social, societal and cultural influences. We went the gamut in our report, not solely focused on one area.”

Forman said her own research focuses on “windows of susceptibility” stages in life at which environmental factors may promote the irregular development of breast tissue. These include fetal development, puberty and pregnancy.

“We know that girls who are born of high birth weight are at increased risk for breast cancer,” Forman said. “What is it about being heavier at birth that leads to cancer? We’re not sure. You need more than [a few people] investigating this area. The whole issue is that we need to know how environmental exposures in utero, infancy, childhood, adolescence build up your risk of breast cancer.”

Ultimately, the report calls for a strategic plan that will facilitate the dissemination of its recommendations back into society and encourage equal investment into breast cancer prevention research.

“This report warns the government and the people that there’s an association between exposures in our everyday lives and the emergence of breast cancer,” said Jeanne Rizzo, president of the Breast Cancer Fund and co-chairwoman of the committee. “The most pressing issue is for us to agree that prevention has an equal standing with treatment, cure and access to care — that it’s equally important.”

Rizzo said the report’s impact is at the whim of the federal government and it can only be as strong and informative as its implementation will allow it be. 

“When the surgeon general said people need to stop smoking, anti-smoking campaigns were built, warnings were put on cigarette packs, studies were done,” Rizzo said. “That’s what has to happen. The same way the warnings from the surgeon general turned into an implementation plan, the recommendations made in this report have to be implemented.”