Researchers believe exposure to BPA in the womb is a reason breast cancer rates in women are rising.
Credit: Shutterstock

We've long heard about the dangers of BPA exposure, but a new study sheds light on another way the chemical may be harming humans. After looking at the effect of the bisphenol A on the developing mammary glands of mouse embryos, researchers are linking exposure in the womb to a potential reason we are seeing higher rates of breast cancer in women.

Bisphenol A is a chemical found in plastic that may seep into foods when they are heated in containers containing the compound. And it's hard to avoid; according to Science Daily, BPA has been detected in most urine samples representative of the U.S. population.

According to the Mayo Clinic, BPA may adversely affect the brain, behavior, and prostate gland of infants and children. Alarmingly, bisphenol A, which has a hormone-like impact on the body, can also cross the placenta and reach a pregnant woman's developing fetus, and this is where researchers are focusing their latest efforts.

In this study, researchers employed a new culture system that can test how chemical exposure affects the developing mammary glands of mouse embryos at a dose comparable to that of humans' environmental exposure to BPA.

Explaining the study's findings, lead investigator Lucia Speroni, PhD, a research associate and member of the Soto-Sonnenschein lab at Tufts University School of Medicine, said, "Exposure in the womb to endocrine disruptors such as BPA may be a main factor responsible for the increased incidence of breast cancer in women. We knew from our previous research that BPA causes changes to breast tissue associated with a higher predisposition to breast cancer later in life. However, until now, we did not know whether this was a direct effect on the fetus or an indirect effect from the mother's exposure."

It's scary stuff. The takaway: Look for products free of bisphenol A, especially if you are pregnant. Use glass containers instead of plastic. Don't heat foods in plastic vessels. And limit your use of canned foods, the lining of which contains BPA.

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.