American scientists have discovered that some chemicals present in the Pill and food containers damage the development of baby mice.
The University of Missouri team has raised concerns over the possible effects on humans but experts urged people not to be alarmed and said there was no clear evidence of such problems in humans.
The two man-made chemicals tested by the researchers were ethinylestradiol and bisphenol A and male mice subjected to them in the womb developed deformities of the urethra and prostate.
The mice were fed the chemicals in lower levels than pregnant women would receive if they continued during pregnancy to take the Pill or consume food or drink contaminated with the chemicals.
Frederick vom Saal, professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri, who led the study, said, “During foetal life, small amounts of such oestrogenic chemicals could permanently disrupt cellular control systems and predispose the prostate to disease.”
He believes it is possible that these chemicals might lead to prostate cancer.
Professor Roger Kirby, urologist at St George’s hospital in London and spokesman for the charity Prostate Research Campaign, said the new research might help shed light on rising prostate cancer rates.
“We are seeing more prostate cancer, and are also seeing it in younger people. So clearly there could be some environmental factor.”
He said that pregnant women could avoid these chemicals but warned, “These findings are not conclusive and people should not be concerned. It’s more of a warning light flashing on the dashboard. We need more research.”
Dr Richard Sharpe, from the Medical Research Council Human Reproductive Sciences Unit in Edinburgh, said, “This is not showing that there is an effect on prostate cancer or prostate disease in adults.
“The study is on mice and the findings cannot be extrapolated to humans. The mouse is not a good model for the human in this case.
“During pregnancy, women produce a lot of oestrogen so babies are exposed to this naturally. This does not happen in mice.”