Endocrine disruption of oestrogen action and female reproductive tract cancers

    1. Philippa T K Saunders
    1. Queen's Medical Research Institute, MRC Centre for Reproductive Health, The University of Edinburgh, 47 Little France Crescent, Edinburgh EH16 4TJ, UK
    1. Correspondence should be addressed to D A Gibson; Email: d.a.gibson{at}ed.ac.uk


    Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC) are ubiquitous and persistent compounds that have the capacity to interfere with normal endocrine homoeostasis. The female reproductive tract is exquisitely sensitive to the action of sex steroids, and oestrogens play a key role in normal reproductive function. Malignancies of the female reproductive tract are the fourth most common cancer in women, with endometrial cancer accounting for most cases. Established risk factors for development of endometrial cancer include high BMI and exposure to oestrogens or synthetic compounds such as tamoxifen. Studies on cell and animal models have provided evidence that many EDC can bind oestrogen receptors and highlighted early life exposure as a window of risk for adverse lifelong effects on the reproductive system. The most robust evidence for a link between early life exposure to EDC and adverse reproductive health has come from studies on women who were exposed in utero to diethylstilbestrol. Demonstration that EDC can alter expression of members of the HOX gene cluster highlights one pathway that might be vulnerable to their actions. In summary, evidence for a direct link between EDC exposure and cancers of the reproductive system is currently incomplete. It will be challenging to attribute causality to any single EDC when exposure and development of malignancy may be separated by many years and influenced by lifestyle factors such as diet (a source of phytoestrogens) and adiposity. This review considers some of the evidence collected to date.

    • Revision received 15 October 2013
    • Accepted 23 October 2013
    • Made available online as an Accepted Preprint 25 October 2013
    | Table of Contents