Breast Cancer Coverage from Every Angle

Does Environmental Quality Impact the Odds of Developing Aggressive Breast Cancer?

By: Lauren Harrison, MS
Posted: Monday, July 1, 2019

Although breast cancer is a multifactorial disease, researchers from Duke University and Georgia State University have shown a potential association between cumulative environmental quality and aggressive breast cancers. Larisa M. Gearhart-Serna, a PhD candidate at Duke University, recently presented their data on rural-urban disparities in distant or metastatic breast cancer at the 2019 American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) conference on Environmental Carcinogenesis: Potential Pathway to Cancer Prevention (Abstract PR06).

The team utilized total and domain-specific environmental quality index values as generated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and compared them with the odds of developing ductal carcinoma in situ or metastatic breast cancer. Data were collected from patients with breast cancer from the North Carolina Central Cancer Registry from 2009 to 2014. Patients were stratified into rural and urban categories based on the county in which they were diagnosed.

Researchers found that patients living in a county with a lower environmental quality were 5% more likely to be diagnosed with distant or metastatic breast cancer than ductal carcinoma in situ (odds ratio = 1.05). This effect was even stronger in rural areas. Higher use of agricultural chemicals such as herbicides and insecticides increased the incidence of metastatic cancer in urban areas, whereas the number of animal facilities had a large effect on rural populations. Those living in areas with a poor sociodemographic environmental quality, both in urban and rural environments, were 6% more likely to have metastatic breast cancer than ductal carcinoma in situ (odds ratio = 1.06). Patients with higher income and higher household value had decreased odds of developing metastatic breast cancer, regardless of whether they lived in urban or rural areas.

“[These findings are] relevant for further studies of environmental exposures associated with aggressive breast cancers,” the researchers concluded.

Disclosure: The study authors’ disclosure information may be found at

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