Common Chemical Exposure May Increase Risk for Triple Negative Breast Cancer

By Cassie Homer
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Exposure to common chemicals  in the environment, including household detergents and industrial pollutants, may increase the risk of developing triple negative breast cancer, according to new data presented at the Society for Endocrinology annual conference.

Triple negative breast cancer makes up 10-20% of all breast cancer diagnoses and particularly affects younger patients. The disease is resistant to hormone treatments and newer targeted therapies, making it difficult to treat. 


Chemicals. Source: Getty

Nuclear receptors (NRs) are altered in breast cancer and may drive cancer development, according to the new data. Identifying which receptors are altered among patients with triple negative breast cancer could provide researchers with new treatment targets. 

Researcher Laura Matthews, MD, from the University of Leeds, and colleagues mapped the entire NR superfamily from samples of breast cancer tissue (n = 168) and normal breast tissue to identify common alterations in NR activity. By studying these receptors, the researchers hoped to find drivers for triple negative breast cancer, which could lead to targeted therapies that would benefit this subtype. 

Data showed 20 of the 48 NRs were altered among patients with triple-negative disease. Eight of these appeared associated with shorter survival times. Using Enrichr software, researchers discovered that chemical disruptors — including household detergents, antiseptics, industrial pollutants and prescribed medications — appeared to either activate these NRs, or alter their expression, suggesting a potential driver for triple negative breast cancer.

"Identifying these NR networks, and ways they might be controlled in patients with TNBC is really important,” Matthews said in a press release. “ We are now investigating how the environmental chemicals change the behaviour of normal breast cells so we can understand how they might drive cancer development. We are also testing whether using drug combinations that target multiple NRs at the same time might prevent or be an effective treatment for TNBC. Our goal is to reduce the number of people that develop breast cancer, and guide new therapies, so that more people can live beyond breast cancer."