Breast cancer risk remains incompletely explained, and higher incidence rates of breast cancer over recent times and in urban and industrialized areas suggest environmental causes. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) are ubiquitous in the environment and epidemiological and rodent studies have shown associations between exposure to PAH and breast cancer incidence as well as mammary tumorigenesis. In addition, in vitro and rodent studies have implicated alterations in estrogen receptor alpha (Era) signaling pathways following PAH exposure in limited experimental studies. However, our understanding of these mechanisms is incomplete. Sahay et al. addressed this gap by examining the effect of PAH exposure on epigenetic and transcriptional regulation of genes in the Era pathway in a mouse cohort exposed to aerosolized PAH at proportions measured in urban air. In addition to alterations in the Era signaling pathway in the pregnant mice and in their offspring and grandoffspring, the investigators observed higher body weights in mice exposed to PAH compared to the control. Given that associations between mammary tissue adiposity, systemic adiposity, and breast cancer risk have been observed previously, the finding of higher body weight in the PAH exposure group raises the possibility that body weight might influence the association between PAH exposure and breast cancer risk. Along with new analyses, we discuss the possibility that body weight may modify the association between PAH exposure, mammary cellular proliferation, and mammary gland ductal hyperplasia in offspring and grandoffspring mice and future research that may be needed to delineate these associations.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, Breast cancer risk, Estrogen receptor α, Obesity, Environmental exposures, Breast cancer gene 1, Aryl hydrocarbon receptor