The Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Program (BCERP) website aims to make the latest scientific findings on the relationship between environmental exposures and breast cancer both accessible and actionable. Consisting of a transdisciplinary consortium of scientists, the BCERP is funded by the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Institute of Environmental Sciences (NIEHS) and National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). With community partners, the BCERP researchers look at how environmental exposures during key life stages may increase risk of breast cancer. (Full disclosure: ZBC was a community partner in the past.)
The BCERP researchers use a broad definition of the environment, “…including the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, and things we touch and put on our skin.” While there is not conclusive evidence that any specific chemical causes breast cancer, they encourage the adoption of the “precautionary principle,” which is the idea that we should be cautious about chemicals that have not been proven safe. Their website shares their findings by clearly explaining the role of the environment in breast cancer risk and suggesting measures individuals and communities can take to reduce risk.
Currently their homepage highlights information about their 13th annual meeting, which will be held November 8, 2018 in Washington, DC. It is free to attend and this year’s focus is on “Understanding the Link between the Environment and Breast Cancer.” Additionally, the homepage has a slideshow describing the target audiences of their website, which can also be found on the menu bar that sits toward the top of every page. The menu sections are as follows:
- About: When hovering the cursor over this section, you can access “Contact Us” with an email form to ask questions. If you click directly on “About,” it will take you to a page describing their purpose as well as information about “Environmental Exposures and Breast Cancer Risk” and “Research.”
- Parents & Caregivers: This section explains important scientific findings in an easy-to-understand manner. Here you can learn about breast cancer risks relevant to children, especially during puberty when breasts are developing. There are links to more information about “Possible Breast Cancer Risk Factors,” “Pregnancy and Breastfeeding,” “What You Can Do,” and “Materials for Parents & Caregivers.”
- Health Professionals: The BCERP’s goal is to educate health professionals as well as to help them educate their patients. This page contains links for health professionals to learn more about “Early Puberty and Breast Cancer,” “Endocrine-disrupting Chemicals,” “Lifestyles” and “Motivating Change,” and “Materials for Health Professionals.” The information in this section is written with a specialist in mind, so if you do not have a medical background it may be more difficult to understand.
- Outreach Organizations: This section is focused on the role that outreach organizations and advocates can play in encouraging and helping community members to limit environmental exposures to harmful or potentially harmful chemicals. Here you will find links to “Environmental Exposures & Breast Cancer Risk,” “Possible Breast Cancer Risk Factors,” “Things You Can Do Now,” and “Materials for Outreach Organizations.”
- Researchers: On this page, you can learn about the research conducted by the BCERP consortium members. They describe windows of susceptibility studies, which include laboratory and epidemiological studies focusing on the life stages where environmental exposures have the greatest impact on breast cancer risk. They also have a coordinating center which facilitates collaboration between BCERP members and dissemination of research findings. You can find links to information about BCERP’s “Background,” “Organization,” “Publications,” “Meetings,” “Valuable Reports,” and “Contacts.” Some of this information is similar to the “About” page, but there is much more detail here. For example, the “Contacts” link here offers names, photos, titles and email addresses of consortium members.
- Educational Materials: This section provides a shortcut to all of the downloadable materials that are linked to throughout the previous sections, as well as additional toolkits. It includes “Materials for Parents and Caregivers,” “Materials for Health Professionals,” “Materials for Outreach Organizations,” “What Can and Cannot Be Customized,” and “Toolkits and Other Resources.” On the “Toolkits and Other Resources” page, you will find materials that Zero Breast Cancer produced with previous BCERP partners, including an animated video titled The Breast Biologues: A Biology Dialogue about Breast Cancer and the Environment, a brochure on phthalates, a link on “Breast Density” that leads to What Does My Number Mean? A Basic Research Primer on Mammographic Density, and a video of a talk titled Of Mice and Women: Modeling Breast Cancer and the Environment.
- Links: Here you will find links to information about BCERP, collaborators, funders and resources from partner organizations.
- Search: Enter a topic you would like to know more about and receive comprehensive search results for information available on their website.
The BCERP website is an excellent resource to learn about important research on environmental exposures that affect breast cancer risk, as well as concrete steps that can be taken to reduce risk. The design of the site by audience—starting with parents and caregivers—signals that their website prioritizes its role in disseminating information. With materials curated for different audiences, it is easy to find relevant information. If you would like more technical details about what the BCERP members are doing, you will need to enter the “Researchers” page. However, most people will want the easily digestible information available by clicking on the “Parents and Caregivers” or “Outreach Organizations” links. There, you can learn how you can help your child, yourself, and your community reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Check out their website at bcerp.org.
This review was written by Lianna Hartmour, ZBC Education Coordinator.