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Critical Issues in Biomonitoring

The evidence supporting an association among environmental risk factors and breast cancer has come primarily from two sources: geographic and regional variations in breast cancer rates and studies of both migrant and twin populations, and a growing number of breast cancer cell and animal studies suggesting an association between breast cancer risk and exposures to environmental carcinogens and hormonally active chemicals. Although the relatively few population-based epidemiological studies on breast cancer and exposures to environmental pollutants to date have yielded inconsistent results, there is an expanding belief among governmental agencies, environmental researchers, breast cancer activists and communities that the use of biological monitoring (biomonitoring) is integral to the advancement of environmental and molecular epidemiological research in breast cancer.

Biomonitoring is the assessment of exposure to toxic chemicals in humans by measuring the presence and concentration of these chemical compounds, their metabolites (break down products) or their reaction products (biomarkers) in human biological specimens such as blood, urine, breast milk, meconium, adipose tissue, saliva, hair or other tissues.

This presentation provides an overview of the history and current science of biomonitoring and outlines the benefits and challenges associated with its use in research, public health and community advocacy efforts. Ethical issues related to biomonitoring such as the handling and use of the data and the interpretation and communication of results at the individual and/or group level are also discussed.

In summary, the main three points of the presentation are:

  • Biomonitoring has the potential to make a significant contribution to research on the role environmental factors play in the development of disease, including breast cancer.
  • While the science of biomonitoring is advancing very quickly, there continue to exist many uncertainties and unanswered questions related to its use in research, public health and clinical medicine.
  • The present uncertainties associated with biomonitoring combined with a growing public interest in its use highlight the need to develop early and effective communication models that faciliatate an interactive exchange of information and concerns among community members and researchers on biomonitoring.

© 2006 BCERC. All Rights Reserved BCERC Coordinating Center, UCSF


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