OSU Logo Most of us are familiar with the term carcinogens, they are a set of agents directly responsible for the development of cancer. This study by scientists at the Oregon State University has shed light on the effect fetal exposure to carcinogens may have at a later stage of life.

The experts revealed how harmful damage at a fetal stage could eventually lead to cancer due to epigenetic alterations in cells. In the research, mice were exposed to 4 distinct doses of a specific carcinogen present in air pollutants or other combustive substances.

Therefore, they apparently encountered about three folds the level of ovarian cancer experienced by middle-aged rodents. Also, around 80% of the mice apparently developed lung cancer while some of them had significant smaller testes, something not observed anytime before.

“There’s still a lot of uncertainty about how the fetus responds to carcinogens and at what points in time it is most vulnerable. We know it’s far more sensitive than adults for several reasons, including faster cell division and the lack of protective detoxifying enzymes. But it’s interesting that the timing of fetal exposure makes such a difference in which organs are targeted. These results were somewhat surprising,” commented David Williams, a professor of environmental and molecular toxicology at OSU.

The subject mice faced exposure to high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) which supposedly reached their fetuses. The amount of the carcinogen reaching the fetus was almost 10% of the proportions seen in the mother.

Scientists are probing further into PAH to gauge the level of damage it can cause to human beings. The animal prototypes seemed to develop cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma through exposure to carcinogens like PAH.

Many analyses have also shown how pregnant women exposed to smoke may put the fetus at risk for developing cancer. The study is published in the journal, Cancer Letters.