A new advisory committee will meet for the first time this week to put together recommendations for HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, National Institutes of Health, and other government agencies on environmental and genetic factors related to breast cancer.
Interagency Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Coordinating Committee (IBCERCC) will create a comprehensive plan to expand opportunities for collaborative, multi-disciplinary research, and develop a summary of advances in federal breast cancer research, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The goal is to find scientific opportunities to better understand how the environment – from toxins in the air to the food we eat – might impact this disease.
The 19-member committee includes members of several federal agencies, scientists, physicians and other health professionals that bring cross-disciplinary expertise to the table.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States, other than skin cancer. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, after lung cancer. One in 8 women – you or someone you know – will be diagnosed with breast cancer sometime in your life. This year, an estimated 207,000 cases will be diagnosed, according to the American Cancer Society.
Genetics accounts for some of these cases (BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 genes), but scientists are still working to find out why other women get this devastating disease. In addition to family history, known risk factors include hormone treatments, race, onset of menstruation prior to age 12, dense breast tissue, early exposure to breast radiation, and treatment with DES. Now, other environmental factors will also be examined – from exposure to certain chemicals and toxins, to hormone-fed cattle, to where women live and work.
This committee looks to take breast cancer research in a new direction, something many breast cancer advocacy groups, such as the National Breast Cancer Coalition, have been calling for. It will be interesting to see what comes out of this first meeting – millions of women’s lives may be at stake.