Categories:  Faculty, Research

Early BPA exposure boosts men’s cancer risk

Gail Prins

Many expectant mothers ingest BPA, says UIC researcher Gail Prins. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services (click on image for larger file size)

A UIC researcher has found new evidence linking early exposure to BPA (bisphenol A), an additive commonly found in plastic water bottles and soup can liners, to increased risk of prostate cancer.

“This is the first direct evidence that exposure to BPA during development, at the levels we see in our day-to-day environment, increases the risk for prostate cancer in human prostate tissue,” said Gail Prins, professor of physiology and director of the andrology laboratory in urology in the College of Medicine.

The increased risk can be traced to prostate stem and progenitor cells that become “sensitized” to estrogen early in development through exposure to BPA — which mimics estrogen in the body.

Environmental exposure to compounds like BPA that mimic hormones has become common, said Prins, who presented her findings at the ENDO 2013 meeting in San Francisco in June.

Prostate stem cells, which are long-lived, pass on the increased estrogen sensitivity to the prostate tissues they produce throughout life.

Because prostate cancer is fueled in part by naturally rising estrogen levels in aging men, the prostate tissue’s increased sensitivity to estrogen makes the development of cancer much more likely, Prins said.

“Studies of expectant mothers in the U.S. showed that more than 95 percent of them had BPA in their urine, which means they recently ingested these compounds, ” said Prins, whose work led to banning the sale of baby bottles and cups containing BPA in Chicago in 2009.

Previous studies by Prins and colleagues using rats showed that exposure to elevated estrogen or BPA during embryonic development increased the rate of prostate cancer later in life.

“We believe that BPA actually reprograms the stem cells to be more sensitive to estrogen throughout life, leading to a life-long increased susceptibility for diseases including cancer,” Prins says.