Women whose mothers have been exposed to high amounts of DDT during pregnancy have a dramatically increased risk of breast cancer later in their lives, a new study suggests.
Though the common pesticide was banned in the U.S. in 1972, it is still being used in developing countries on the Asian and African continents. There, DDT is used to kill disease-carrying insects like mosquitoes which infect people with malaria, and sometimes as a cheap delousing method.
A researcher from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York said that the study’s results were concerning since a whole generation of females might have been affected by the widespread use of DDT in the 1950s and 1960s.
The recent study involved nearly 15,000 mothers and their daughters from the San Francisco Bay Area. Data on the mothers dated back from the 1960s, so scientists hoped to find a direct link between DDT use during that particular time frame and later health problems in next generations.
Other studies had shown that DDT, which can disturb female hormonal balance, could play a role in developing breast cancer decades later.
Researchers from the Berkeley, California-based Public Health Institute assessed DDT exposure in pregnant women and their daughters who developed breast cancer by the age of 50 or later. Soon afterward, scientists compared the results with DDT exposure in mothers whose daughters stayed healthy.
Scientists found that mothers with high DDT exposure during pregnancy gave birth to girls that had a 3.7 time higher risk of developing cancer than their peers with low in utero exposure to DDT.
Moreover, women whose mothers had high amounts of DDT in their blood were also more likely to develop aggressive types of cancer or to be diagnosed with advanced stages of the disease.
On the other hand, the new study does have some limitations. Lead author Barbara Cohn explained that there must be more factors that may have contributed to the later development of the disease in study participants.
The study was published this week in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
In the 1960s, about everybody in the U.S. was exposed to DDT, which was very popular at the time because it was highly effective in fighting off insects.
But a decade later, people become aware that the pesticide did not only kill insects, but it also harmed birds and the environment. Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring” forced authorities to ban the pesticide due to public pressures.
Image Source: Environmental Health News
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