Radiation and Unborn Baby Boys

Testicular cancer risks increase in mice when mother had radiation during early pregnancy

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Increasingly, we're learning that exposure to radiation from X-rays and other medical tests can have long-term health consequences. A recent study shows that unborn baby male mice are vulnerable.

An animal study has shown that testicular cancer is more common in male offspring whose mothers received radiation early on in pregnancy. 

"A painless lump on the testicle should be checked out."

The study, conducted at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, is the first of its kind to search for an environmental factor linked to testicular cancer.

Over the past 50 years, the incidence of testicular germ cell tumors (TGCT) has tripled, increasing at a steady rate of 3 percent annually.

And yet it's a relatively rare form of cancer that tends to strike young men. This year, 8,590 men in the United States will learn they have testicular cancer, which has an excellent outlook. Of those men, 95 percent of them will be alive in five years.

For the study, researchers observed and analyzed the effects of estrogen or radiation on the development of testicular germ cell tumors.

Genetically engineered mice were exposed to these agents on two consecutive days. The estrogen had no noticeable increases in testis cancer.

However, two doses of radiation made the TGCT incidence soar from 45 to 100 percent in the male offspring. Furthermore, the tumors that appeared in these mice were more aggressive and often appeared in both testes.

“This discovery launches a major shift in the current research model, placing DNA-damaging agents in the forefront as likely mediators of testicular cancer induction,” says corresponding author Gunapala Shetty, PhD, an assistant professor in MD Anderson’s Department of Experimental Radiation Oncology.

The authors write, "This is the first proof of induction of testicular cancer by an environmental agent and suggests that the male fetus of women exposed to radiation at about 5–6 weeks of pregnancy might have an increased risk of developing testicular cancer."

Funding for this research was from the Florence M. Thomas Professorship in Cancer Research and the National Cancer Institute.

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

This study was published February 13, 2012 in PLoS One.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 5, 2012
Last Updated:
June 5, 2012