When looking at the various causes of breast cancer, we know that a combination of age, family history, diet and lifestyle and environment all have a role to play. We’ve also known for some time that breast density impacts on risk level, meaning that women with denser breasts – a higher proportion of fibroglandular tissue to fatty tissue – are more likely to develop the disease.


While we know that breasts will become less dense as a woman ages, there is no clear evidence on what causes high density. Recently, however, a study conducted by the University of Florida highlighted that air pollution could be an important factor. The research, published in Breast Cancer Research journal last week, used data from 280,000 women in the USA, comparing mammogram results with pollution data in the areas where participants lived.


Interestingly, the study found that for every unit increase in concentration of fine particles known as PM2.5, a woman’s chance of having dense breasts increased by four per cent, while those with less dense breasts were 12 per cent less likely to have been exposed to such concentrations of pollution. However the correlation was not exact and did not prove a causative link.


As a charity that’s entirely dedicated to the prevention of breast cancer, this is a very interesting finding and one that could act as an exciting springboard for future research.


For instance, it would now be valuable to look at the correlation between mammographic density, breast cancer incidence and location within the UK, which hasn’t been done before. Studying the differences across cities, such as Manchester, London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Birmingham, versus more rural areas, would provide us with an understanding of the link, if any, between air pollution and density and, therefore, breast cancer risk.


Conducting such research would eventually afford us more of the knowledge required when assessing a woman’s chances of developing breast cancer and could be incorporated into preventative programmes.


Here at Prevent Breast Cancer, our team of researchers work tirelessly to identify various markers of risk, developing research studies that will hopefully lead us to creating a breast cancer-free future.


Read our chairman Lester Barr’s comments in The Times here.