Exposure to phthalates and breast cancer risk in northern Mexico

Environ Health Perspect. 2010 Apr;118(4):539-44. doi: 10.1289/ehp.0901091.


Background: Phthalates, ubiquitous environmental pollutants that may disturb the endocrine system, are used primarily as plasticizers of polyvinyl chloride and as additives in consumer and personal care products.

Objectives: In this study, we examined the association between urinary concentrations of nine phthalate metabolites and breast cancer (BC) in Mexican women.

Methods: We age-matched 233 BC cases to 221 women residing in northern Mexico. Sociodemographic and reproductive characteristics were obtained by direct interviews. Phthalates were determined in urine samples (collected pretreatment from the cases) by isotope dilution/high-performance liquid chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry.

Results: Phthalate metabolites were detected in at least 82% of women. The geometric mean concentrations of monoethyl phthalate (MEP) were higher in cases than in controls (169.58 vs. 106.78 microg/g creatinine). Controls showed significantly higher concentrations of mono-n-butyl phthalate, mono(2-ethyl-5-oxohexyl) phthalate, and mono(3-carboxypropyl) phthalate (MCPP) than did the cases. After adjusting for risk factors and other phthalates, MEP urinary concentrations were positively associated with BC [odds ratio (OR), highest vs. lowest tertile = 2.20; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.33-3.63; p for trend < 0.01]. This association became stronger when estimated for premenopausal women (OR, highest vs. lowest tertile = 4.13; 95% CI, 1.60-10.70; p for trend < 0.01). In contrast, we observed significant negative associations for monobenzyl phthalate (MBzP) and MCPP.

Conclusions: We show for the first time that exposure to diethyl phthalate, the parent compound of MEP, may be associated with increased risk of BC, whereas exposure to the parent phthalates of MBzP and MCPP might be negatively associated. These findings require confirmation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mexico / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Phthalic Acids / toxicity*
  • Risk Factors


  • Phthalic Acids
  • phthalic acid