Focus on Prevention, Says Interagency Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Coordinating Committee

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On Oct. 8, 2008, the U.S. Congress passed the Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Act, which required the Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish the Interagency Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Coordinating Committee. The committee members are doctors and researchers who are members of federal agencies and non-federal research institutions. The committee was asked to look at where breast cancer and the environment research is today and make recommendations to fill in any knowledge gaps in that area.

After working for 2 years, the committee released a report on Feb. 12, 2013 saying that federal funding for breast cancer research should focus on prevention and understanding how environmental factors affect breast cancer risk rather than on diagnosis and cure. Read "Breast Cancer and the Environment: Prioritizing Prevention," a summary of the committee's recommendations.

The committee made seven broad recommendations:

  1. Prioritize Prevention: The committee called for a national breast cancer prevention strategy to increase federal funding for prevention research.
  2. Transform How Research Is Done: The committee recommended researchers from multiple disciplines be funded to look at the biological processes that control breast cancer and breast density, as well as genetic changes caused by environmental factors and the effect environmental factors have on breast development.
  3. Fund More Research on Chemical and Physical Factors: The committee called for more research on suspected risk factors, such as endocrine disrupting chemicals and low-dose radiation, so we better understand exactly how these factors contribute to risk. The committee also said that more research needs to be done on how environmental exposure to breast cancer risk factors affects diverse populations.
  4. Better Collaboration Among Agencies: The committee called for federal, state, and nongovernmental organizations to better coordinate and collaborate to increase the pace of research on breast cancer and the environment.
  5. Engage Public Stakeholders: To make sure that the results of breast cancer research are distributed effectively and widely, the committee said that breast cancer advocacy groups, community representatives, and members of the public should be a part of breast cancer research planning and prioritization.
  6. Train Transdisciplinary Researchers: The committee called for programs to encourage researchers to work across disciplines -- so a genetic scientist might also study chemical engineering -- to develop scientists that think about breast cancer prevention in new ways.
  7. Communicate Scientific Results to Society: The committee recommended that a process for getting the word out about research results be a part of every funded program that focuses on breast cancer and the environment.

"Prevention is the key to reducing the emotional, physical, and financial burden of breast cancer," the committee said. "By urgently pursuing research, research translation, and communication on the role of the environment in breast cancer, we have the potential to prevent a substantial number of new cases of this disease in the 21st century."

Still, the committee admitted that effective prevention may be a long process.

"Prevention does not come easily. The issues must be discussed widely, broadly, often, and vigorously to inform science, public health practice, and policy."

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