Fetal exposure to radiation increases testicular cancer risk

March 14, 2012

Male fetuses of mothers that are exposed to radiation during early pregnancy may have an increased chance of developing testicular cancer, report researchers from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston.

Male fetuses of mothers that are exposed to radiation during early pregnancy may have an increased chance of developing testicular cancer, report researchers from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston.

"This discovery launches a major shift in the current research model, placing DNA-damaging agents in the forefront as likely mediators of testicular cancer induction," said first author Gunapala Shetty, PhD.

The MD Anderson study, which was published online in Plos ONE (2012; 7:e32064), began as an examination of endocrine disruptors as a possible cause of testicular cancer. The authors separately tested two such substances: the estrogen diethylstilbestrol and the antiandrogen flutamide.

The endocrine disruptors were introduced into a mouse strain with a high spontaneous incidence of testicular cancer, but the results showed no increase in testicular cancer. However, when the authors gave modest doses of radiation to female mice in the middle of their pregnancies, all of the male offspring developed testicular cancer, compared with 45% of mice not exposed to radiation. In addition, the tumors were more aggressive and had more sites of origin.

These findings suggest that DNA-damaging agents, rather than endocrine disruptors, should be examined as a factor in the increased prevalence of testicular cancer.

"Although radiation exposure of pregnant females has been declining and is unlikely to be responsible for this increase, we intend to follow this up with studies of DNA-damaging chemicals found in cigarette smoke and air pollution, to which exposures of pregnant women have been increasing," said senior author Marvin Meistrich, PhD.

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