A new study found that Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical commonly used in plastics, promotes the growth of breast cancer cells and reduces the effects of treatment.

Exposure to the synthetic compound bisphenol-A or BPA promotes breast cancer growth, a new study found. When exposed to high levels of the synthetic compound bisphenol-A, the BPA works with estrogen, which is naturally present in the body to create abnormally high amounts of HOTAIR. This, in turn, promotes the growth of breast cancer tumors.

HOTAIR is an abbreviation for long, non-coding RNA, a part of DNA in humans and other vertebrates. This RNA doesn't produce any proteins of its own. However, in its functional form, it suppresses genes that would normally slow tumor growth or cause cancer cell death.

"We set out to determine whether routine exposures to common chemicals such as those in plastics, pesticides and insecticides could influence the effectiveness of breast cancer treatments," said co- author Gayathri Devi, Ph.D., associate professor of surgery at Duke, in a press statement. "BPA was one of the top chemicals to show growth stimulatory effects in breast cancer cells."

The researchers used new screening strategies to evaluate a panel of compounds available through a public library of chemicals managed by the Environmental Protection Agency. Researchers found several agents that appeared to increase the proliferation of inflammatory breast cancer cells, BPA being the most active. The chemical caused breast cancer cells to grow at a faster rate in both estrogen-receptor positive and estrogen-receptor negative breast cancer cells.

"These studies provide the foundation for additional research to develop tools that can be used to identify patients who may be at greater risk of developing treatment resistance," Devi said. "The findings could also lead to biomarkers that identify patients who have heavy exposure to compounds that could diminish the effectiveness of their cancer therapy."

Ideally, estrogen regulates HOTAIR turning its functionality on and off through interaction with molecules called estrogen-receptors (ERs) and estrogen receptor-co-regulators (ER co regulators). However, when a person is exposed to BPA, the compound disrupts the normal function of the ERs and the ER-co regulators, potentially implicating it in tumor growth in a variety of cancers.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, no matter your race or ethnicity. According to the American Cancer Society, 206,966 women and 2,039 men in the United States were diagnosed with breast cancer last year. Among these, 40,996 women and 439 men died from breast cancer.

The study was funded by the Duke Department of Surgery D.P. Bolognesi Award, the Duke Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute.