Fungal Toxins Found in Urine of Young Girls Could Impact Future Risk of Breast Cancer
New Brunswick, N.J. – Puberty is a time in a girl’s life considered highly sensitive to stimulation by the hormone estrogen and a critical window during which estrogen exposure could greatly influence the risk of breast cancer later in life. An early onset of puberty also has been consistently shown in studies to increase the risk of breast cancer. The Jersey Girl Study, which aims to examine factors affecting puberty in girls and is based at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey (CINJ), has shown that estrogen-like substances produced by fungi may act as a hormone disrupter. CINJ is a Center of Excellence of UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
Led by CINJ epidemiologist Elisa Bandera, MD, PhD, a multidisciplinary team of investigators recently found detectable levels of these fungal compounds, known as mycoestrogens, in urine samples donated by girls participating in the Jersey Girl Study. The findings suggest that the presence of these mycoestrogens may delay height growth and the onset of breast development in young girls. The findings are scheduled to be published in the November 15 print edition of the journal Science of the Total Environment (doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2011.09.029).
Mycoestrogens are produced by fungi that are present in grains through contamination. They are also present in such foods as meat, eggs and dairy through contaminated animal feed or deliberate introduction of the synthetic mycoestrogen zeranol into livestock for the purpose of improved meat production. Zeranol is a non-steroid agent approved the by U.S. Food and Drug Administration to promote animal growth in beef production, but is banned for such use in the European Union and other countries.
The investigators measured zearalenone mycoestrogens and zeranol in the urine of 163 girls participating in the Jersey Girl Study and found detectable levels in 78 percent of the girls. More specifically, high levels of zearalenone mycoestrogens were found in 55 percent of the samples, while low levels of zeranol were found in more than 20 percent of the samples. Researchers also evaluated food sources for these mycoestrogens, and found that beef and popcorn intakes were strong predictors of detectable levels in urine. When researchers evaluated the association with growth and development, they found that girls with detectable urinary mycoestrogen levels tended to be shorter and less likely to have reached the onset of breast development.
"Because zearalenone mycoestrogens are widely distributed in the food supply, it is critical that we have a better understanding of their levels, their food sources and their effects on the development of young girls, which ultimately has important implications for their future breast cancer risk." said Dr. Bandera, who is the lead author of the research and an associate professor of epidemiology at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. "To our knowledge this is the first study evaluating mycoestrogens in healthy girls. More studies are needed in this very important research area. This is just the beginning."
In addition to researchers from CINJ, the Jersey Girl Study team includes experts in environmental health at the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute (EOHSI – jointly administered by UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey), pediatric endocrinology at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and biostatistics at CINJ and UMDNJ-School of Public Health. Additional information about the Jersey Girl Study can be found at: http://cinjweb.umdnj.edu/jerseygirl.
Along with Bandera, the author team consists of Urmila Chandran, CINJ and UMDNJ-School of Public Health; Brian Buckley, CINJ and EOHSI; Yong Lin, CINJ and UMDNJ-School of Public Health; Sastry Isukapalli, EOHSI; Ian Marshall, UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School; Melony King, UMDNJ-School of Public Health; and Helmut Zarbl, CINJ and EOHSI.
The research was supported by CINJ, Komen Foundation Central and South Jersey Affiliate, the New Jersey Commission on Cancer Research, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (P30ES005022), and the National Institutes of Health (K22CA138563).
About The Cancer Institute of New Jersey
The Cancer Institute of New Jersey (www.cinj.org) is the state’s first and only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center dedicated to improving the detection, treatment and care of patients with cancer, and serving as an education resource for cancer prevention. CINJ's physician-scientists engage in translational research, transforming their laboratory discoveries into clinical practice, quite literally bringing research to life. To make a tax-deductible gift to support CINJ, call 732-235-8614 or visit www.cinjfoundation.org. CINJ is a Center of Excellence of UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. Follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TheCINJ.
The CINJ Network is comprised of hospitals throughout the state and provides the highest quality cancer care and rapid dissemination of important discoveries into the community. Flagship Hospital: Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. System Partner: Meridian Health (Jersey Shore University Medical Center, Ocean Medical Center, Riverview Medical Center, Southern Ocean Medical Center, and Bayshore Community Hospital). Major Clinical Research Affiliate Hospitals: Carol G. Simon Cancer Center at Morristown Medical Center, Carol G. Simon Cancer Center at Overlook Medical Center, and Cooper University Hospital. Affiliate Hospitals: CentraState Healthcare System, JFK Medical Center, Mountainside Hospital, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton (CINJ Hamilton), Somerset Medical Center, The University Hospital/UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School*, and University Medical Center at Princeton. *Academic Affiliate