, Volume 6, Issue 6, pp 551-566

Organochlorine compounds and estrogen-related cancers in women

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The organochlorines, a diverse group of some 15,000 compounds, have been implicated increasingly as being harmful to humans. Some congeners of DDT and PCB elicit very weak to weak estrogenic responses in animals, while the dioxin TCDD and related compounds have antiestrogenic properties. This review summarizes the evidence regarding whether certain organochlorine compounds, usually as persistent food-chain contaminants, increase the risk of breast and endometrial cancers through their estrogenic potential. In humans, neither ecologic data nor occupational studies provide clear support for an association between organochlorine exposure and the occurrence of these cancers. In our summary analysis of occupational exposure, the rate ratio of breast cancer for exposed cf unexposed women was 0.84 (95 percent confidence interval [CI]=0.50–1.33) for PCBs and 1.08 (CI=0.68–1.58) for TCDD. Similarly, effect estimates close to unity were found in summary analysis of breast cancer case-control studies regarding levels of DDE and PCB in adipose tissue or serum. In two recent nested case-control studies using stored specimens, the odds ratio per standard deviation increase in serum p,p'-DDE was 1.27 (CI=0.95–1.69). Although estrogenic effects of certain organochlorine compounds should be easier to detect on the endometrium, we know of no analytic epidemiologic studies of endometrial cancer published to date. We conclude that available data do not indicate that organochlorines will affect the risk of these two cancers in any but the most unusual situation.

This work was supported through a grant to Harvard University from the Chemical Manufacturers Association; further support was received from the Swedish Cancer Society. The completeness, accuracy and interpretation of the data presented in this report as well as the conclusion reached therein is the responsibility solely of the authors.