This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, reduce your exposure to endocrine disruptors

For almost four decades, the U.S. has recognized October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month to spotlight the disease and funding for research on breast cancer diagnoses, treatments and prevention.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in eight women in the U.S. will get breast cancer in her lifetime. This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, prevention by reducing exposure to harmful chemicals should be top of mind.

The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted breast cancer screenings and mammograms – the National Cancer Institute estimated that mammograms declined by 80 percent in 2020. This is concerning, since breast cancer is on the rise, especially among young women.

Recent studies have linked environmental exposures to breast cancer. By better understanding the role of risk factors like lifestyle choices and chemical exposures in the development of breast cancer, prevention strategies can lower the risk of developing cancer. 

Some endocrine-disrupting chemicals are known to contribute to the development of breast cancer, and are found in the foods we eat and the products we use every day, like personal care products and household cleaners.

Studies suggest these chemicals can alter DNA and interfere with gene expression, which may cause mutations in breast cells and make tissues more susceptible to cancer.

A healthier lifestyle may help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. Here are some ideas for avoiding exposure to endocrine disruptors.

EWG's Guide to Endocrine Disruptors


It’s important to know what food may contain or be contaminated with endocrine disruptors, so you can avoid them, when possible.

EWG’s Food Scores is a great guide to nutritious grocery store options. The database uses nutrition and ingredient information and processing concerns to generate ratings for more than 80,000 foods. Low scores indicate healthier options, whereas higher ratings raise red flags.

If you’re already at the grocery store, use EWG’s Healthy Living app to scan products as you shop. The app puts Food Scores ratings at your fingertips and makes shopping easier.

A diet heavy in fatty food is linked to a higher risk of many diseases, like cancer. The fat cells in the body produce estrogen, and high levels of estrogen are associated with the development of breast cancer.

Fruits and vegetables are part of a healthy diet. Pesticide residues are one way endocrine disruptors can enter the body. Some pesticides, like atrazine and organophosphates, may interfere with the hormone system. Buy organic when you can to limit pesticide exposure – consult EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™, which ranks produce based on its pesticide residues.

Organic foods may not always be an option due to cost and availability, so choose from EWG’s Clean Fifteen™ of produce with the lowest pesticide residues, and try to limit consumption of the produce on the Dirty Dozen™ list of items with the highest residues.

Some chemicals in food may also lead to weight gain and obesity, which raises the risk for cancer. These chemicals, called obesogens, can be found in many highly processed foods. They are more likely to contain a range of harmful chemicals, like artificial sweeteners, high-fructose corn syrup, preservatives and artificial flavorings and colorings. During processing and packaging, these foods may also become contaminated with other harmful chemicals, like the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS.

Personal care products

Hormone-disrupting chemicals are added to many of the personal care products people use every day. Some common endocrine disruptors include PFAS, parabens and phthalates. It’s essential to lower overall exposures to these chemicals. 

EWG’s Skin Deep® database provides hazard ratings for nearly 90,000 personal care products. Products and ingredients are rated on a scale of one to 10, from low to high hazard, to make it easier to choose products with fewer hormone-disrupting chemicals.

You can also look on Skin Deep for personal care products that carry the EWG VERIFIED® mark. These products are free from EWG’s chemicals of concern and meet our strictest criteria for your health.

Cleaning products

A recent intervention studied 50 Hispanic women and their exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as phthalates and cyclosiloxanes. The researchers found that household cleaners may be a significant source of exposure to endocrine disruptors. Measuring by air concentrations, they found switching from standard cleaning products to products that rated well in EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning and EPA’s Safer Choice program led to a big decrease in exposure to these chemicals and to carcinogens.

It may be tough for consumers to decode complicated labels to find green cleaners. Companies greenwash – or make false environmental claims about – their products by slapping terms like “non-toxic” and “natural” on labels. But marketing claims aren’t regulated, and definitions often vary widely by company.

EWG’s cleaners database rates more than 2,500 cleaning products, based on ingredient hazards and transparency. You can also look for the EWG VERIFIED mark on household cleaning products, which meet EWG’s strictest standards.

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