Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Associations of Serum Concentrations of Organochlorine Pesticides with Breast Cancer and Prostate Cancer in U.S. Adults

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Associations of Serum Concentrations of Organochlorine Pesticides with Breast Cancer and Prostate Cancer in U.S. Adults

Article excerpt

BACKGROUND: Organochlorine (OC) pesticides are a group of environmental endocrine disruptors that may be associated with an increased risk for hormone-related cancers including cancers of the breast and prostate. However, epidemiologic evidence is limited and inconsistent.

OBJECTIVES AND METHODS: We used 1999-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data to examine associations between serum concentrations of OC pesticides and prostate and breast cancers.

RESULTS: After adjustment for other covariates, serum concentrations of [beta]-hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH) (p for trend = 0.02), trans-nonachlor (p for trend = 0.002), and dieldrin (p for trend = 0.04) were significantly associated with the risk of prevalent prostate cancer. Adjusted odds ratios for the second and third tertiles of detectable values were 1.46 [95% confidence interval (CI), 0.52-4.13) and 3.36 (95% CI, 1.24-9.10) for [beta]-HCH; 5.84 (95% CI, 1.06-32.2) and 14.1 (95% CI, 2.55-77.9) for trans-nonachlor; and 1.06 (95% CI, 0.30-3.73) and 2.74 (95% CI, 1.01-7.49) for dieldrin compared with concentrations in the lowest tertile or below the limit of detection. However, there was no positive association between serum concentrations of OC pesticides and breast cancer prevalence.

CONCLUSION: Although further study is necessary to confirm these findings, these results suggest that OC pesticide exposures may have a significant effect on cancer risk. Efforts to reduce worldwide OC use are warranted.

KEY WORDS: cancer, endocrine disruptors, organochlorine pesticides, pesticide, prostate cancer. Environ Health Perspect 118:60-66 (2010). doi:10.1289/ehp.0900919 available via http://dx.doi. org/ [Online 3 September 2009]


Organochlorine (OC) pesticides, a class of hydrocarbon compounds characterized by their cyclic structure, number and position of chlorine atoms, and low volatility, were widely used in agriculture and pest control after they were introduced in the 1940s. They include hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH) isomers, DDT and its analogs, and cyclodienes. Because of their nature of persistence in the environment, bioaccumulation in the food chain, and possible health effects, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency restricted and banned the use of most of OC pesticides during the 1970s and 1980s. Although OC pesticides are rarely used in the United States today, measurable amounts of OC pesticides or their metabolites can still be found in human tissues in the United States. Moreover, OC pesticides continue to be heavily used in some developing countries, primarily for mosquito and malaria control (Turusov et al. 2002). Thus, the health effects of OC exposure remain an important global public health concern.

Evidence from experimental assays suggests that a number of OC pesticides demonstrate weak estrogenic or antiestrogenic effects (Soto et al. 1995). These chemicals interfere with the function of the endocrine system by mimicking a hormone, blocking the effects of normal, endogenous hormones, or by altering or modifying the synthesis, metabolism, or transport of hormones (Soto et al. 1995). It is believed that these compounds may act as a tumor promoter through hormone-mediated effects (Hansen and Matsumura 2001). Some epidemiologic studies have linked OC pesticides with several hormone-related cancers including breast cancer (Calle et al. 2002), prostate cancer (Mills and Yang 2003), endometrial cancer (Weiderpass et al. 2000), and testicular cancer (Biggs et al. 2008). However, findings from epidemiologic studies have not been consistent, particularly for breast and prostate cancer.

The primary source of exposure to OC pesticides in the general population is believed to be through diet via consumption of milk, fish, and meat (Toppari et al. 1996). Additional exposure pathways include dust, air, and soil. Measurement of OC pesticide exposure is a complex and challenging process because of the multiple pathways of exposure. …

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