Household Chemicals and Breast Cancer Risk

A chemical found in many plastic products used in households caused accelerated breast development and genetic changes in newborn female lab rats, a condition that might predispose the animals to breast cancer later in life, a new study says.

Butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP) is commonly used to soften polymers and plastics. It’s found in everything from plastic pipes, vinyl floor tiles and carpet backing to lipstick. BBP has also been found to be an endocrine disruptor, which mimics the effect of hormones. Endocrine disruptors are known to damage wildlife and have also been implicated in reduced sperm counts and neurological problems in humans

The findings are important because the researchers are studying the lifetime effect of BBP on the mammary gland, long before it starts developing under the influence of the hormones of puberty, and the potential implications on humans.

To prevent breast cancer in adulthood, it is necessary to protect both the newborn child and the mother from exposure to this compound that has an estrogenic effect and could act as an endocrine disruptor.

The researchers found that BBP affected characteristics of the female offspring of the rats, such as more rapid breast development and changes in the genetic profile of the mammary glands. While these effects wore off after exposure to BBP was stopped, the changes caused by the chemical might have an effect later in life, the researchers said.