Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a chemical compound in many consumer products, including food and beverage containers and packaging. BPA is known to leach from containers into food, which for most people is the primary source of exposure to the chemical. Exposure to BPA is so widespread that the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey detected the compound in 93% of individuals six years and older.
While studies have found early evidence of links between BPA and breast and prostate cancer, the federal government has yet to classify the chemical as a carcinogen or call for its removal from consumer products as other countries have.
Environmental epigeneticist and Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences Assistant Professor Caren Weinhouse is studying the link between BPA and another form of cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma, or HCC. HCC is the fifth most common cancer worldwide and the third in mortality. Furthermore, HCC is poised to become the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths by 2030. And because common causes of HCC, such as hepatitis and alcohol abuse, do not fully account for increasing instances in the US, Weinhouse and other researchers began suspecting something in the environment was responsible for the uptick in cases.
In previous studies, Weinhouse found that male and female mice exposed to BPA during developmental stages of life, with no known exposures to other carcinogens, developed HCC relatively early in adulthood. Those findings suggested that 1) BPA is not only a carcinogen but a complete carcinogen in the liver, meaning it could potentially initiate and promote HCC, without any co-exposures and 2) BPA was able to disrupt estrogen signaling processes that typically protect females from HCC.
Weinhouse recently received a prestigious Outstanding New Environmental Scientist R01 award from the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences to further explore those findings. In the current study, Weinhouse is testing the hypothesis that there is a causal relationship between BPA and HCC and that BPA disrupts estrogen signaling, resulting in higher instances of HCC in female mice.
“The US is lagging behind other countries when it comes to regulating BPA,” Weinhouse said. “If our study shows positive outcomes for liver cancer, we could influence the conversation regarding BPA regulations and public health going forward.”