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Breast cancer linked to 17 chemicals in common household products

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is a cancer-causing chemical commonly found in rugs, furniture, clothes, cosmetics, and paint
Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

A new study finds that 17 common chemicals are linked to increased rates of breast cancer in women. The chemicals are found in everyday products—such as gasoline, paint, carpets, cookware, and even ink-jet printers.

The study was published in Environmental Health Perspectives, with support from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Breast cancer is the most common invasive malignancy among women in the U.S. and the leading cause of death in women from their late 30s to their early 50s, according to the American Cancer Society.

The researchers used toxicological studies to identify "high-priority" chemicals that are associated with breast cancer. They also highlighted the need to better monitor people who are at highest risk for exposure to these hazardous chemicals.

The following chemicals are cited in the study, along with sources from which most people are exposed.


Exposure to this chemical comes primarily from breathing cigarette smoke, automobile exhaust, and gasoline fumes. On-the-job exposure can happen to workers in factories that make synthetic rubber or refine petroleum.


Found in tobacco smoke and food—especially starchy foods such as french fries. Other sources include grouts, adhesives, and gels used in diapers and treatments for drinking water .

Aromatic amines

This group of chemical is used to produce polyurethane, pesticides, dyes, polyurethane foams and sealants. Banned in the U.S., Europe, and Japan, these chemicals are still used in Asia to make textiles, hair dyes, paints, printing inks, paper, LCD monitors, and ink-jet printers.


Most exposure to benzene comes from gasoline—riding in a car, pumping gasoline, and storing gasoline in a basement or garage.

Halogenated organic solvents

Found in dry cleaning, hair spray, soil fumigants, food processing, gasoline additives, paint, and spot removers.


This chemical is used to sterilize medical equipment. On-the-job exposure is often found in health care settings. Also, trace amounts have been found in food, spices, clothing, and musical instruments.

Propylene oxide

An industrial chemical, it's used to make other chemicals, including polyurethane foam. It's also used in some automotive and paint products. Small amounts of this chemical are found in tobacco smoke.

Flame retardants

Formerly used in children’s pajamas before being banned in 1977, these chemicals now are found in some plastics.

Heterocyclic amines

This chemical comes from eating meat—which has been cooked at high temperatures—as well as tobacco smoke.

Pharmaceutical hormones

Doctors commonly prescribe estrogen, progesterone, DES, and other hormones.


MX is a toxic by-product of a disinfection process for drinking water.


This group of chemicals is found in air pollutants, primarily diesel exhaust.

Ochratoxin A

A naturally occurring toxin, human exposure comes from contaminated grain, nuts, and pork products. It's also found in moldy environments.


Exposure to PAHs come from tobacco smoke, polluted air, and eating charred foods.

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)

This and related chemicals are used in non-stick and stain-resistant coatings on rugs, furniture, clothes, cookware, as well as cosmetics, lubricants, paints, and adhesives.

Pharmaceutical drugs

These include four chemotherapy medicines, two veterinary drugs, the diuretic drug furosemide, the anti-fungal griseofulvin, and the anti-hypertensive drug reserpine.


Exposure to styrene comes from breathing indoor air, cigarette smoke, and eating food that has been in contact with polystyrene. Styrene is present in consumer products and building materials, including polystyrene, carpets, adhesives, hobby and craft supplies, and home maintenance products.

The full report is available online. The research was funded by a grant from Avon Foundation for Women.

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