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BPA Triggers Changes in Rats That May Lead to Breast Cancer

For related articles and information, please visit OCA's Health Issues page and our Food Safety Research Center page.

    Ed Uthman,flickr   

New research suggests that the chemical BPA changes how genes function in the mammary glands of rats exposed in their mother's womb, leaving them more vulnerable to breast cancer later in life.

The study is the first to examine what impact fetal exposure to bisphenol A has on the DNA of mammary glands as they age. The researchers said their findings indicate that exposure to low amounts of the ubiquitous chemical, which mimics estrogen, might cause permanent changes in gene activity that lead to breast cancer.

The mother rats were injected with amounts that "we would expect to find in humans," said Dr. Ana Soto, a Tufts University professor and senior author of the study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

"We saw the mammary glands start to develop in an erroneous way," Soto said. "The glands later on had increased probability of getting cancer."

Soto previously reported that female rats exposed to BPA while in the womb were more likely to have pre-cancerous lesions in their mammary glands. The new findings suggest that this is likely due to epigenetic changes, which are heritable changes in how genes are activated.

BPA is used to make polycarbonate plastics, as well as the liners of some canned foods and beverages, paper receipts and dental sealants. It is found in nearly all people tested.

The rat studies should be a red flag for humans, said Michael Skinner, a professor and researcher at Washington State University who specializes in epigenetics. Skinner was not involved in the study.     

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