Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) bioaccumulate in the food chain and have been detected in human blood and adipose tissue. Experimental studies demonstrated that POPs can cause and promote growth of breast cancer. However, inconsistent results from epidemiological studies do not support a causal relationship between POPs and breast cancer in women. To identify individual POPs that are repeatedly found to be associated with both breast cancer incidence and progression, and to demystify the observed inconsistencies between epidemiological studies, we conducted a systematic review of 95 studies retrieved from three main electronic databases. While no clear pattern of associations between blood POPs and breast cancer incidence could be drawn, POPs measured in breast adipose tissue were more clearly associated with higher breast cancer incidence. POPs were more consistently associated with worse breast cancer prognosis whether measured in blood or breast adipose tissue. In contrast, POPs measured in adipose tissue other than breast were inversely associated with both breast cancer incidence and prognosis. Differences in biological tissues used for POPs measurement and methodological biases explain the discrepancies between studies results. Some individual compounds associated with both breast cancer incidence and progression, deserve further investigation.
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