High Testicular Cancer Rates Linked to Fetal Exposure to Plastic Bottles
According to experts, exposure while in the womb might explain why the rate of this cancer has doubled in 35 years.
The Edinburgh team told Human Reproduction such a study was only now possible because they had made a model to study the disease in development. They will use mice harbouring human cells to test the theory.
Testicular cancer occurs in young men, but doctors have known for some years that the abnormal changes that lead to testicular cancer happen in the first few months that the foetus is growing.
Researchers are fairly certain there must be an environmental cause because the rate of the cancer has increased so rapidly.
According to Professor Richard Sharpe, of the Medical Research Council's Human Reproductive Sciences Unit, one theory is that the changes are caused by pregnant women being exposed to environmental chemicals such as phthalates, which are used in many different household items, including plastic furniture and packaging.
But because the cancers only develop 20-40 years after the patient is born, it has been hard for doctors to discover what happened in foetal development to cause this to happen, especially when trying to establish if their mothers were exposed to phthalates or other environmental chemicals to establish a causal relationship.
Now the MRC researchers have developed a model in which early human foetal testis development can be studied and manipulated experimentally to establish once and for all if exposure to environmental chemicals is a likely culprit.
"We are choosing to study phthalates first for several reasons, because we know that in the test-tube they can affect foetal human germ cells. They are also the most ubiquitous of environmental chemicals. We are all exposed to them," the BBC quoted Prof Sharpe as saying.
Phthalates are used to make plastic flexible, and so can be found in carpets, wall boards, car upholstery and fittings and certain cosmetics and pharmaceutical drugs.
However, Sharpe said that there was uncertainty about whether phthalate effects on the foetus in animal models were relevant to humans.
"This is one of the critical unresolved questions as to whether phthalates pose a risk to human health or not.
"It's a huge industry. These compounds are literally part of the fabric of our modern society so they cannot easily be banned or removed without having widespread effects on everyday life. We need to know for sure if these compounds are harmful or not. The hope is that our studies can resolve this one way or another," he said.