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Breast cancer screening: Test identifies products that can raise risk

A woman gets a breast examination in this undated file photo.

February 19, 2014 12:00:00 AM PST
Researchers at City of Hope are developing a test that may identify which drugs and substances increase a woman's risk of breast cancer. Those can include foods with naturally occurring estrogen, like soy, products with BPA, or medications.

Their preliminary findings raise concerns about a popular antidepressant, Paxil, because it may lead to the growth of breast cancer tumors. This is important because about 70 percent of breast cancers are sensitive to estrogen.

The test, called AroER Tri-Screen, is effective in identifying endocrine disruptors, which act like hormones in the body and can promote the growth of cancers. Researchers say the test can quickly assess more than 1,500 compounds and their effect on estrogen activity.

The lead author, Dr. Shiuan Chen, identified the anti-depressant paroxetine, widely known as Paxil, as a substance that affects estrogen activity in the body. Doctors often prescribe anti-depressants to breast cancer patients to help with hot flashes and mood swings during chemotherapy.

The team at City of Hope also found Bisphenol A (BPA), which is found in plastics, and certain fungicides as potentially raising the risk of cancer as well. But how these substances are metabolized in humans is unknown.