Background: Over the past decades, an increasing trend in male external genital malformations such as cryptorchidism and hypospadias has led to the suspicion that environmental chemicals are detrimental to male fetal sexual development. Several environmental pollutants, including organochlorine pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls, bisphenol A, phthalates, dioxins and furans have estrogenic and anti-androgenic activity and are thus considered as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). Since male sex differentiation is critically dependent on the normal production and action of androgens during fetal life, EDCs may be able to alter normal male sex differentiation.
Objective: The objective of this study was to determine the incidence of external genital malformations in a population of full-term newborn males in southern France. We also performed a case-control study to identify the risk factors for male external genital malformations, with a focus on parental occupational exposure to EDCs.
Methods: Over a 16-month period, 1615 full-term newborn males with a birth weight above 2500 g were registered on a level-1 maternity ward, and the same pediatrician systematically examined 1442 of them (89%) for cryptorchidism, hypospadias and micropenis. For every male newborn with genital malformation, we enrolled nearly two males matched for age, parity and term. All parents of the case and control newborns were interviewed about pregnancy aspects, personal characteristics, lifestyle and their occupational exposure to EDCs using a detailed questionnaire. RESULTS We report 39 cases of genital malformation (2.70%), with 18 cases of cryptorchidism (1.25%), 14 of hypospadias (0.97%), 5 of micropenis (0.35%) and 2 of 46,XY disorders of sexual differentiation (DSD; 0.14%). We observed a significant relationship between newborn cryptorchidism, hypospadias or micropenis and parental occupational exposure to pesticides [odds ratio (OR) = 4.41; 95% confidence interval (95% CI), 1.21-16.00]. Familial clustering for male external genital malformations (OR = 7.25; 95% CI, 0.70-74.30) and medications taken by mothers during pregnancy (OR = 5.87; 95% CI, 0.93-37.00) were associated with the risk of cryptorchidism, hypospadias and micropenis, although the association was not statistically significant.
Conclusions: Although the causes of male genital malformation are multifactorial, our data support the hypothesis that prenatal contamination by pesticides may be a potential risk factor for newborn male external genital malformation and it should thus be routinely investigated in all undervirilized newborn males.