Chemical in everyday items has breast cancer link

Brominated flame retardants, found in furniture, electronics, and kitchenware, are used to stop flames in the event of a fire,

Nick Beare 3 minute read March 12, 2021

BFRs can escape easily and make their way into dust, food and the air in your home. Getty

A new study from the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) in Quebec, published in the journal Toxicological Sciences, found a link between brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and breast cancer.

BFRs are found in all sorts of everyday items such as furniture, electronics, and kitchenware and are used to slow the spread of flames in the event of a fire. The study found that exposure to these molecules may lead to early mammary gland development, which is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.

Since they are not directly bound to the items in which they are embedded, BFRs can escape easily and make their way into dust, food and the air in your home. Then, they act as endocrine disruptors that interfere with the hormonal system.

The development of mammary glands in younger people is heavily regulated by the body’s hormones, making them susceptible to the effects of BFRs.

“BFRs pose a significant risk, particularly during sensitive periods, from intrauterine life to puberty and during pregnancy,” said Professor Isabelle Plante, the lead author of the study, co-director of the Intersectoral Centre for Endocrine Disruptor Analysis and environmental toxicologist.

The researchers exposed female rodents to a mixture of BFRs — like what might be found in house dust — in three stages: Prior to mating, during gestation and during lactation. The researchers later observed the effects in the offspring at two different stages of development and in the mothers.

In pre-pubertal rats, the team found early development of mammary glands. Earlier studies also had similar findings and highlighted the issue. Pubescent rats showed a deregulation of communication between cells in a separate study published in 2019, and the same thing was observed in female ancestors in a 2017 study. All these effects are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.

But what really makes this study hit home is how common BFRs are and how often people have been exposed to them dating back decades.

“Young women exposed to BFRs in utero and through breastfeeding are now in the early stages of fertility. Their mothers are in their fifties, a period of increased risk for breast cancer,” said Professor Plante.

In all three of the studies, most of the effects were observed when the rats were exposed to low doses of dust, which begs the question: What are we being exposed to on a daily basis?

“To evaluate the ‘safe’ dose, experts give an increasing dose and then, when they observe an effect, identify it as the maximum dose. With endocrine disruptors, the long-term consequences would be caused by lower doses,” said Plante.

This may seem counter intuitive, but the researchers explain that a high dosage would trigger a toxic response from the cells. While a low dosage that is similar to the concentration of hormones in the body would contribute to the deregulation of the hormonal system, causing the cells to respond inappropriately.

The researchers are now studying endocrine disruptors related to a predisposition to breast cancer, funded by the Breast Cancer Foundation and the Cancer Research Society, with the hope of more understanding leading to prevention for future generations.

Don’t miss the latest health news. Subscribe to Healthing’s daily newsletter.


Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our community guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.