Hormone Use in Food Animal Production: Assessing Potential Dietary Exposures and Breast Cancer Risk

Curr Environ Health Rep. 2015 Mar;2(1):1-14. doi: 10.1007/s40572-014-0042-8.


In recent years, increasing attention has been paid to the role of hormones in breast cancer etiology, following reports that heightened levels of endogenous hormones and exposure to exogenous hormones and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals through food and the environment are associated with increased breast cancer risk. Seven hormone drugs (testosterone propionate, trenbolone acetate, estradiol, zeranol, progesterone, melengestrol acetate, and bovine somatotropin) are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in food animals. There is concern that these drugs or their biologically active metabolites may accumulate in edible tissues, potentially increasing the risk of exposure for consumers. To date, the potential for human exposure to residues of these compounds in animal products, as well as the risks that may result from this exposure, is poorly understood. In this paper, we discuss the existing scientific evidence examining the toxicological significance of exposure to hormones used in food animal production in relation to breast cancer risk. Through a discussion of U.S. federal regulatory programs and the primary literature, we interpret the state of surveillance for residues of hormone drugs in animal products and discuss trends in meat consumption in relation to the potential for hormone exposure. Given the lack of chronic bioassays of oral toxicity of the seven hormone compounds in the public literature and the limitations of existing residue surveillance programs, it is not currently possible to provide a quantitative characterization of risks that result from the use of hormonal drugs in food animal production, complicating our understanding of the role of dietary hormone exposure in the population burden of breast cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Husbandry*
  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Cattle
  • Diet / adverse effects*
  • Drug Residues / analysis
  • Female
  • Hormones / adverse effects*
  • Hormones / analysis
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meat / analysis*
  • Mice
  • Milk / chemistry*
  • Rats
  • Risk Factors
  • United States


  • Hormones