The BCERP Coordinating Center, UW-Madison has compiled a glossary with the intent to provide definitions of key terms used by BCERP researchers, clinicians, and lay persons to communicate and collaborate.
Bisphenol A (BPA) (bis-PHEE-nol ay): BPA is a man-made chemical that is thought to be an “endocrine disruptor,” a substance that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce harmful effects in humans. BPA is added to certain hard-plastic containers often used for food and beverages, and can be used to line the insides of metal cans used for canned food. Plastic food and beverage containers with the number 7 in the recycling triangle often contain BPA. Recent studies have found BPA in some cash register receipts.
Body Mass Index (BMI) (BAW-dee mass IN-dex): BMI is a number calculated from a child’s height and weight. It provides a reliable indicator of body fatness for most children and teens and is often used to screen for overweight and obesity, which may lead to health problems. For children and teens, BMI is age- and sex-specific and is often referred to as “BMI-for-age.”
Breast cancer (brest KAN-ser): Cancer that forms in tissues of the breast, usually the ducts (tubes that carry milk to the nipple) and lobules (glands that make milk). It occurs in both men and women, although male breast cancer is rare.
Chemical (KEH-mih-kul): A substance of a particular molecular identity that either occurs in nature or is created by a chemical reaction. Chemicals can be naturally occurring (such as penicillin or mercury) or can be made by people [like food additives (vinegar, MSG, sweeteners, etc.) or pesticides (DDT and Alar)].
Endocrine disruptor (EN-doh-krin dis-RUP-ter): Naturally occurring compounds or man-made substances that may mimic or interfere with the function of hormones in the body. Endocrine disruptors may turn on, shut off, or modify signals that hormones carry, which may affect the normal functions of tissues and organs. Many of these substances have been linked with developmental, reproductive, neural, immune, and other problems. Some research suggests that these substances adversely affect human health in similar ways, resulting in reduced fertility and increased occurrence or faster development of some diseases, including obesity, diabetes, endometriosis, and some cancers.
Endocrine system (EN-doh-krin SIS-tem): A system of glands and cells that make hormones that are released directly into the blood and travel to tissues and organs all over the body. The endocrine system controls growth, sexual development, sleep, hunger, and the way the body uses food.
Environment (en-VYE-urn-ment): A range of things, including the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, and things we touch and put on our skin. Environments can be natural or manmade (e.g., the built environment).
Exposure (eks-PO-zhur): Contact with a substances, such as chemicals or small particles, by ingestion (swallowing food or liquids), breathing or through contact with the skin or eyes. Exposures can also include harmful rays such as unfiltered sun or x-rays.
Menstruation (men-stroo-AY-shuhn): The blood flow from the uterus that happens about every 28 days in women of childbearing age who are not pregnant. Commonly called a woman’s period.
Obesity (oh-BEE-suh-tee): Refers to a range of body weight greater than what is generally considered healthy for a given height. The term also identifies a range of weights that have been shown to increase the likelihood of certain diseases and other health problems. Body mass index (BMI) is a measure used to determine childhood overweight and obesity. For children and adolescents (aged 2-19 years) in the U.S., “obesity” is defined as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) growth charts. Being obese is more extreme than being overweight.
Overweight (oh-ver-WATE): Refers to a range of body weight greater than what is generally considered healthy for a given height in the U.S. The term also identifies a range of weights that have been shown to increase the likelihood of certain diseases and other health problems. For children and adolescents (aged 2-19 years), “overweight” is defined as a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 85th percentile and lower than the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex.
Phthalates (THAL-ates): Chemicals that are thought to be “endocrine disruptors,” or substances that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce harmful effects in humans. Phthalates are used to make certain plastics more flexible and are in some detergents, storage containers, toys, and personal care products (like fragrance, nail polish, deodorant, hair care, and body lotion). Plastic food and drink containers, and plastic or vinyl toys, with the number 3 in the recycling triangle contain phthalates.
Precautionary principle (pre-CAW-shun-air-ee PRIN-sip-ul): The precautionary principle states that when an activity threatens harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause-and-effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.
Puberty (PYOO-bur-tee): The process of developing into a sexually mature adult, when a person becomes capable of having children. In girls, puberty includes a growth spurt, development of breasts and hips, growth of body hair, and the beginning of menstruation (having periods).
Risk factor (risk FAK-ter): Something that increases the chance of developing a disease, such as breast cancer, such as genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors.
Windows of susceptibility (WIN-dows uv suh-sep-tuh-BIL-it-ee): Specific time periods throughout the lifespan when exposures to environmental factors may directly or indirectly affect the risk of developing a disease, such as breast cancer. In many cases, exposure to the same factors at other time periods may have no effect. Gestation, puberty, pregnancy, and lactation may be time periods when individuals are particularly susceptible to environmental factors that may influence breast cancer risk.