Exposure to Endocrine Disruptors during Pregnancy Can Lead to the Development of Testicular Cancer

Article Author: Lucy Watt, Biology Major, Class of 2024, POB Science Translator

Throughout the course of our lives, we go through many stages of development. We grow in our mother’s womb for nine months and then enter the world as a new human. Within the first three years of our life, we enter our toddler years, where we learn to walk, talk, and explore. Then comes the awkward stages of puberty and all the hormones and drama that comes with it. With time, we finally develop into adults. Each stage of development is crucial to who we become when we are fully developed, and blips in these stages may lead to long-term effects, especially during those first nine months in the womb. 

Unfortunately, there are environmental factors that affect this stage of development simply from the pregnant mother being exposed to chemicals that may send improper signals to her womb. These environmental factors, specifically environmental endocrine disruptors (EEDs also known as EDCs), can lead to severe health defects for the infant. 

One of the most prominent long-term health effects that are seen from EDC exposure in male fetuses is testicular dysgenesis syndrome (TDS) which is a reproductive disorder in males that can lead to infertility, low testosterone, hypospadias (when the urethra opens on the side of the penis), cryptorchidism (when one or both of the testes fail to drop into the scrotum), and testicular cancer down the line. In a 2022 literature review conducted by Fabiana Faja et. al, multiple scientific papers analyzing the relationship between EDC exposure in the womb and testicular cancer development. 

Of the studies analyzed, it was found that prenatal exposures to phthalates, BPA, and parabens have significant associations with the development of TDS in the fetus. These EDCs have the ability to mimic hormones and other signaling molecules in our bodies, impacting their regulation and our body’s responses throughout development. When an EDC, such as a phthalate, enters your body, it acts as an imposter, binding to a hormone receptor, and throwing off the proper hormone communication. According to the authors, “In vitro and in vivo toxicology studies show that phthalates and their metabolites may be associated with congenital abnormalities (cryptorchidism, hypospadias), semen quality impairment, testicular germ cell cancer, confirming the role of these chemicals in disrupting the hormonal balance.”

Certain chemical exposures during pregnancy may be of significant concern for a boy’s increased risk of testicular cancer in males, later in life. As the authors indicate, “Another pathology included in TDS is testicular cancer (TC), which represents the most common solid malignancy in men of reproductive age and whose incidence has increased over the last 50 years.”  Organochlorine pesticides and PCB exposure studies were reviewed with likely associations. 

Our choices during pregnancy have a significant impact on the future of our sons. Referencing one particular study, the authors highlight, “to assess any association with the onset of TC in the offspring, Ghazarian et al. examined the maternal use of personal care products during pregnancy and breastfeeding on a wide caseload of 527 TC cases’ mothers and 562 mothers of controls. The authors found a significantly increased risk of TC associated with frequent maternal exposure to face lotion containing different EDCs, such as phthalates and parabens.”

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Sources: Faja, F., et al. (2022, August 29). Environmental disruptors and testicular cancer – endocrine. SpringerLink. Retrieved October 27, 2022, from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12020-022-03171-z 


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