Current Epidemiology Reports

, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp 92–100 | Cite as

Air Pollution and Breast Cancer: a Review

  • Alexandra J. White
  • Patrick T. Bradshaw
  • Ghassan B. Hamra
Environmental Epidemiology (F Laden and J Hart, Section Editors)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Environmental Epidemiology


Purpose of Review

Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed among US women. Air pollution is a pervasive mixture of chemicals containing carcinogenic compounds and chemicals with endocrine-disrupting properties. In the present review, we examine the epidemiologic evidence regarding the association between air pollution measures and breast cancer risk.

Recent Findings

We identified 17 studies evaluating the risk of breast cancer associated with air pollution. A higher risk of breast cancer has been associated with nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) levels, both of which are proxies for traffic exposure. However, there is little evidence supporting a relationship for measures of traffic count or distance to nearest road, or for measures of particulate matter (PM), except potentially for nickel and vanadium, which are components of PM10. Hazardous air toxic levels and sources of indoor air pollution may also contribute to breast cancer risk. There is little existing evidence to support that the relationship between air pollution and breast cancer risk varies by either menopausal status at diagnosis or combined tumor hormone receptor subtype defined by the estrogen receptor (ER) and progesterone receptor (PR).


Epidemiologic evidence to date suggests an association between breast cancer risk and NO2 and NOx, markers for traffic-related air pollution, although there was little evidence supporting associations for proxy measures of traffic exposure or for PM. More research is needed to understand the role of specific PM components and whether associations vary by tumor receptor subtype and menopausal status at diagnosis.


Air pollution Breast cancer Particulate matter Vehicular traffic Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons 



This research was supported by the Intramural Research Program of the NIH.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

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Copyright information

© This is a U.S. government work and its text is not subject to copyright protection in the United States; however, its text may be subject to foreign copyright protection 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexandra J. White
    • 1
  • Patrick T. Bradshaw
    • 2
  • Ghassan B. Hamra
    • 3
  1. 1.Epidemiology BranchNational Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIHResearch Triangle ParkUSA
  2. 2.Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Public HealthUniversity of California BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA
  3. 3.Department of EpidemiologyJohns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public HealthBaltimoreUSA

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