skip navigation nih record
Vol. LXII, No. 10
May 14, 2010

previous story

next story

Environmental Exposures Affect Women’s Health, Researchers Say

Speakers at the recent ORWH seminar included (from l) Dr. Maureen Cooney, Dr. Suzanne Fenton, Dr. Jose Russo and Dr. Brenda Eskenazi.
Speakers at the recent ORWH seminar included (from l) Dr. Maureen Cooney, Dr. Suzanne Fenton, Dr. Jose Russo and Dr. Brenda Eskenazi.

Exposure to chemicals in the environment may lead to adverse health effects for women, say researchers. The topic was discussed at ORWH’s Women’s Health Seminar Series, “Environmental Exposures and Women’s Health,” held recently in Lipsett Amphitheater. Several NIH and extramural researchers presented their findings on various studies of chemical exposure.

Dr. Linda Birnbaum, NIEHS director, opened the seminar by video, outlining NIEHS research on environmental exposures. “NIEHS-funded researchers are investigating metabolic pathways by which estrogenic endocrine disruptors cause adverse health effects.” As a result of these studies, Birnbaum said, NIEHS established a grants program that brings together citizens and researchers to exchange information on links between exposure and disease.

In addition to disease burden, exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) at critical periods in fetal development can cause abnormal mammary gland development, said Dr. Suzanne Fenton of NIEHS. She shared her findings in rat models, along with other studies, that reported adverse long-term consequences of embryo exposure to chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates. To help limit further public exposure to EDCs, she noted, “The National Toxicology Program is routinely including early-life exposure in chronic exposure bioassays” to determine the long-term effects of fetal EDC exposure.

EDCs were also found to have adverse effects on women’s capacity to reproduce. Dr. Maureen Cooney of NICHD found that dioxins and pesticides affected puberty, with studies demonstrating a steady decrease, since 1973, in the age at which girls begin menarche and breast development. Further research, she noted, would require “recruiting an appropriate study population, capturing both the exposure and the outcome at the right time.” She concluded by calling for more studies and encouraging women to minimize their exposure to EDCs.

Dr. Brenda Eskenazi of the University of California, Berkeley, conducted a study of female survivors of a 1976 industrial chemical explosion in Seveso, Italy. Results showed that the younger the girls were at the time of exposure, the higher their risk of early menarche and development of breast cancer later in life. She encouraged future studies to “assess exposure in utero and consider other factors such as body mass index.”

Dr. Jose Russo of Fox Chase Cancer Center studied the effects of BPA on prenatal and prepubertal rats. The results showed that prepubertal exposure to BPA may be related to premenopausal breast cancer and prenatal BPA exposure may be related to postmenopausal breast cancer. He further noted, “The selective genomic effect in the mammary gland points toward the need to avoid the exposure of young girls to BPA.” He concluded by calling for more studies on BPA and breast tissue to determine the causes of cancer.

To view a video of the seminar, go to NIHRecord Icon

back to top of page