The researchers found that BBP affected characteristics of the female offspring of the rats, such as more rapid breast development and changes in the genetic profile of the mammary glands. While these effects wore off after exposure to BBP was stopped, the changes caused by the chemical might have an effect later in life, the researchers said.
"Our original observations are that the genomic changes induced by BBP occur very early in life, and they could result in significant modifications in the risk of the mammary gland to develop cancer later on in life," Russo said.
Russo said he and his colleagues are currently evaluating how changes in gene expression caused by BBP respond to cancer-causing chemicals given to adult rats.
"We are also studying the effects of exposure to BBP before birth. In addition, we are following a cohort of girls entering puberty for determining the tempo of breast development and their first menstrual period and associating these events with exposure to environmental agents such as BBP," Russo said.
One expert said scientists are only beginning to learn how many genes are affected by exposure to chemicals early in life.
"The early exposure to BBP altered breast development and may therefore alter the susceptibility to breast cancer," said Dr. Ted Schettler, science director at the Science and Environmental Health Network, in Ames, Iowa.
Schettler thinks people need to be aware of the possible effects of chemicals on genes during early life, and how these changes can influence susceptibility to disease in adulthood.
"People are finally getting the idea that early life events can matter later in life," Schettler said. "When people see that commonly encountered environmental agents like BBP can cause genetic changes, it's of public health interest."
However, Dr. Jonathan Bora
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