Phthalate Exposure in Children’s May Increase Cancer Risk

The exposure of humans to phthalates is widespread through contact with myriad consumer products. This exposure is particularly high through medications formulated with phthalates, and they can disrupt normal endocrine signaling and are associated with reproductive outcomes and incidence of some cancers. 

Phthalates are chemical additives used to enhance the durability or consistency of plastics and a wide range of consumer products. They are also used as inactive ingredients in some medications, especially those that require extended or delayed drug release to work properly, for example, some anti-inflammatory drugs and antibiotics. 

In a recently published study, researchers from the University of Vermont Cancer Center have linked phthalates to higher incidence of specific childhood cancers. The study appears in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 

Study Development and Results 

The researchers identified all live births in Denmark between 1997 to 2017, including both children and birth mothers, and used ingredient data merged with the Danish National Prescription Registry they measured phthalate exposure through filled prescription for mothers during pregnancy to evaluate gestational exposure, and for children from birth until age 19 to evaluate childhood exposure. 

The incidence of childhood cancers were evaluated from the Danish Cancer Registry. Nearly 1.3 million children were included in the study, and from those 2,027 cases of childhood cancer were detected. 

The researchers found that childhood exposure to phthalates was associated with 20% higher rate of childhood cancer overall, with nearly three-fold higher rate of osteosarcoma diagnosis, which is a type of bone cancer, and a two-fold higher rate of lymphoma diagnosis.

The team characterized phthalate exposure based on prescription fills for phthalate-containing medications.

The study once again raises questions about the exposure to these compounds in childhood and in the general population. But even if we can’t yet say that they are responsible for cancer development,  these types of studies add more insight of how they have an impact and association with an increased risk of multiple health conditions. 


University of Vermont. (2022, Mar 16). Study: Exposure to Phthalates — the ‘Everywhere Chemical’ — May Increase Children’s Cancer Risk. Newswise. Retrieved from: 

Thomas P Ahern, et al. Medication-Associated Phthalate Exposure and Childhood Cancer Incidence.  J Natl Cancer Inst. 2022.

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