Bisphenol-A is everywhere. If you are reading this in the United States, there is a greater-than-90 percent chance you have BPA in your system, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The chemical is nearly ubiquitous: it is all over your receipts and soup cans, and it gives plastic bottles useful properties like flexibility and durability. It also mimics human estrogen in the body, and studies have linked it to breast cancer, diabetes, obesity, and hormone abnormalities in children, though what doses are dangerous is a matter of debate.
Now, for the first time, scientists are adding prostate cancer to the list of possible health problems from exposure.
Prostate cancer is the second most prevalent form of cancer among men, afflicting one in six, mostly later in life. A new study published Monday in the journal Plos One found that men with prostate cancer have BPA in their urine at levels 2- to 4-fold higher than cancer-free men. Aging is the best-known risk for prostate cancer, which makes the study’s findings particularly salient: BPA concentrations were especially high in prostate cancer patients under the age of 40, when aging is less of a contributing factor to the development of prostate cancer.
“I really feel this study calls for a larger study that should be immediately done,” Dr. Shuk-mei Ho, the director of the Cincinnati Cancer Center and lead author of the study, told Newsweek. She stressed that her study was relatively small: her team tested the urine of only 60 men.
“This is suggesting that perhaps BPA may potentially contribute to either the development or progression of prostate cancer, or the BPA is more predictive of cancer,” Ho said. “We really need a larger, well defined study before we draw any conclusions.”
In animals, researchers have found BPA able to switch on or off genes that block or promote tumor growth, allowing cancers to develop. But making a similarly strong association in humans is tough, because scientists cannot simply biopsy a human prostate to observe the effects, Dr. Ho explained.
To look more closely at the mechanisms behind the possibility of cancer promotion, Dr. Ho’s study also looked at BPA’s effect on isolated human prostate cells in a lab. It found that when the prostate cells were treated with BPA, they developed abnormal centrosome, which is the organelle responsible for cell division. Centrosome abnormalities are often observed in cancers.
BPA has been used all over the world since the 1960s, and two million tons of it are manufactured each year. It was federally banned from baby bottles and sippy cups, but before you get too comfortable with products labeled “BPA free,” remember that we don’t know much about those chemicals either.
“There are way too few studies to know if the alternatives are any better,” Dr. Ho said.
A recent investigation from Mother Jones points to several studies that found Tritan, a BPA alternative used in many products labeled BPA-free, may actually be more estrogenic than BPA itself.