Review of the estrogenic and antiestrogenic activity of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons: relationship to carcinogenicity

Chemosphere. 1997 Feb;34(4):835-48. doi: 10.1016/s0045-6535(97)00012-x.


Human exposure to nonsteroidal estrogens in the environment has recently been proposed as a risk factor for endocrine disruption and the development of cancers of the breast and reproductive tract. Certain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which closely resemble steroid hormones, are ubiquitous environmental contaminants whose carcinogenicity has been extensively studied. This review examines the available evidence regarding the actions of PAHs on estrogen receptor activity, estrogen metabolism and the hypothalamo-pituitary axis. In most studies, PAHs exhibited either weakly estrogenic or antiestrogenic responses. The possibility is raised that the endocrine toxicology of certain PAHs reflects both genotoxic and non-genotoxic components which may be interrelated, particularly with regard to carcinogenesis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Binding, Competitive
  • Carcinogens / adverse effects
  • Carcinogens / toxicity*
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Estrogen Antagonists / adverse effects
  • Estrogen Antagonists / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / chemically induced
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / etiology
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / drug effects
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / metabolism
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / adverse effects
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / toxicity*
  • Receptors, Estrogen / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Receptors, Estrogen / drug effects*
  • Risk Factors
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Carcinogens
  • Estrogen Antagonists
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
  • Receptors, Estrogen