The study, done in an animal model, also demonstrates how the predisposition may arise, and a way to identify those at risk. Man-made compounds that can mimic the hormone action of estrogens (xenoestrogens) are widespread in the environment. One of these agents is bisphenol A (BPA), used in the manufacture of plastics and epoxy resins. The United States alone produces over 1.6 million pounds of BPA annually. BPA, which can also leach from plastics when heated, turns up in human blood and in placental and foetal tissues in even higher concentrations.

In this study, a research team led by Dr. Gail Prins of the University of Illinois at Chicago and Dr. Shuk-Mei Ho of the University of Cincinnati exposed rats to low doses of estradiol, a natural oestrogen, or to BPA during the developmental period corresponding to the second and third trimester of human pregnancy. They found that this early exposure predisposed male rats to precancerous lesions of the prostate in old age.

"Most remarkably, early BPA exposure sensitised the prostate to precancerous lesions brought on by exposure of the adult animal to elevated estradiol," said Prins, professor of urology at UIC and senior author of the study. "This is highly relevant to people, because relative estradiol levels increase in aging men as a result of their increased body fat and declining testosterone levels."

The doses of estradiol and BPA used in the study were similar to levels found in human serum; in the circulation of some pregnant women; and in the foetus. Transfer of BPA from mother to foetus has been reported, and levels in male foetuses have been shown to be higher than those of female foetuses.; Source: University of Illinois at Chicago