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By Barbara Tasch
May 12, 2014
TIME Health
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New research sheds light on possible nongenetic causes of breast cancer: everyday chemicals.

Scientists at the nonprofit Silent Spring Institute and the Harvard School of Public Health did a deep dive on epidemiological data, looking at chemicals linked to mammary tumors in animals and then comparing their findings against existing data for humans, which is far more limited. The study authors, who published their research in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives, identified 17 groups of chemicals they say are cause for concern.

These everyday chemicals include those found in vehicle exhaust, flame retardants (which are commonly used on furniture, rugs and mattresses), stain-resistant textiles (like the kind used to upholster furniture), paint removers and disinfection byproducts in drinking water. The study also identified chemicals formed by combustion (benzene and butadiene), which humans are exposed to from gasoline, lawn equipment, tobacco smoke, and charred or burned food.

More research is needed before a conclusive cause-and-effect link can be established between these chemicals and breast cancer, but the authors urge men and women to take care in the meantime. In addition to standard breast-cancer prevention — maintaining a healthy weight, moderating alcohol consumption and not smoking — the study authors offer seven tips women and men should follow to minimize the risk of exposure to those substances:

1) Reduce your exposure to fumes from gasoline and to exhaust from diesel or other fuel combustion. That means: don’t idle your car, and if possible, use electric, not gas-powered, lawnmowers, leaf blowers and weed whackers.

2) Use a fan when you cook, and avoid eating burned or charred food.

3) Don’t buy furniture with polyurethane foam — or ask for foam not treated with flame retardants.

4) Avoid stain-resistant rugs, furniture and fabrics.

5) Find a dry cleaner who doesn’t use solvents; ask for “wet cleaning.”

6) Purify your drinking water with a solid carbon-block filter.

7) Keep your house clean to avoid bringing in outside chemicals. Remove your shoes at the door, vacuum with a HEPA filter, and clean with wet rags and mops.

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