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State of the Evidence: The Connection Between Breast Cancer and the Environment

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A substantial body of scientific evidence indicates that exposures to common chemicals and radiation, alone and in combination, are contributing to the increase in breast cancer incidence observed over the past several decades. Key recurring themes in the growing scientific literature on breast cancer and environmental risk factors are: (a) the importance of understanding the effects of mixtures and interactions between various chemicals, radiation and other risk factors for the disease; and (b) the increasing evidence that timing of exposures matters, with exposures during early periods of development being particularly critical to later risk of developing breast cancer. A review of the scientific literature shows several classes of environmental factors have been implicated in an increased risk for breast cancer, including hormones and endocrine-disrupting compounds, organic chemicals and by-products of industrial and vehicular combustion, and both ionizing and non-ionizing radiation.
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Purpose Breast cancer is a major cause of morbidity worldwide and first-degree relatives of breast cancer survivors have a significantly higher risk of breast cancer that can be reduced by altering controllable risk factors. This study examined protective behavioral strategies used to cope with the risk in female first-degree relatives based on descriptions of their experiences, as well as their reason(s) for choosing a particular coping strategy. Methods A total of 25 first-degree relatives of breast cancer survivors in 13 families were recruited for this descriptive qualitative study. Data were collected between January and November 2020 through individual interviews, and a thematic analysis was performed using MAXQDA software. Results Three themes under an overarching theme of ‘competition with breast cancer risk’ were identified: (1) protective behavioral strategies for coping with breast cancer risk (four coping types); (2) barriers and facilitators for behavior change (five unfavorable and favorable factors related to the type of coping); and (3) significant determinants of coping strategy types. Based on these three themes, we developed a Personal restrictions, Exposure hazards, Adverse circumstances, Coping ability, Endorsement from social network, and Significant determinants (‘PEACE-S’) scale model of first-degree relatives' strategies for coping with breast cancer risk. Conclusions First-degree relatives present different risk coping strategies that are shaped by individual and external factors and specific determinants. Our results provide insights that can help healthcare professionals design targeted interventions based on first-degree relatives’ individual circumstances to mitigate breast cancer risk in this group through the adoption of healthy lifestyle choices.
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