June 16, 2015
2 min read

DDT exposure in utero increases risk for breast cancer in adulthood

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A nearly four times higher risk for breast cancer in adulthood was found among women exposed to higher levels of DDT compared with those exposed to lower levels before birth, according to recent study findings published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Further, the more estrogenic DDT, o,p’-DDT, was largely responsible for the results.  

“This 54-year-study is the first to provide evidence that chemical exposures for pregnant women may have lifelong consequences for their daughters’ breast cancer risk,” Barbara A. Cohn, PhD, of the Public Health Institute in Berkeley, California, said in a press release. “Environmental chemicals have long been suspected causes of breast cancer, but until now, there have been few human studies to support this idea.”

Cohn and colleagues conducted a 54-year follow-up of 9,300 daughters from the Child Health and Development Studies pregnancy cohort to determine the risk for breast cancer after in utero exposure to DDT.

The researchers found that elevated exposure to o,p’-DDT was associated with a four times higher risk for breast cancer. A lower risk for breast cancer was found with maternal overweight early in the pregnancy.

For a doubling of o,p’-DDT, there was an estimated OR of 2.2 (95% CI, 1.1-4.2) for diagnosis at an advanced stage, as well as an OR of 2.1 (95% CI, 1-4.8) for a human epidermal growth factor receptor 2-positive tumor.

“This study calls for a new emphasis on finding and controlling environmental causes of breast cancer that operate in the womb,” Cohn said. “Our findings should prompt additional chemical and laboratory studies that can lead to prevention, early detection and treatment of DDT-associated breast cancer in the many generations of women who were exposed in the womb. We also are continuing to research other chemicals to see which may impact breast cancer risk among our study participants.” – by Amber Cox

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.