Some, but not all, epidemiological studies have suggested that dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) may play a role in the development of breast cancer. These investigations have been conducted in countries where this substance has been banned for at least 20 years. We conducted a study in Mexico, a country in which DDT is still being used to control malaria. In a hospital-based case-control study, we compared 141 histologically confirmed cases of breast cancer with 141 age-matched controls (±3 years). All subjects were identified at three referral hospitals of Mexico City between March 1994 and April 1996. Reproductive histories and other variables were obtained by structured interviews, DDT/DDE levels were determined in serum by gas-liquid chromatography. The arithmetic mean of serum DDE in lipid basis was 562.48 ± 676.18 ppb (range, 10.24–4661.44) for the cases and 505.46 ± 567.22 ppb (range, 0.004 to 4361.75) for the controls, but this difference was not statistically significant. The age-adjusted odds ratios for breast cancer regarding the serum level of DDE were 0.69 (95% confidence interval, 0.38–1.24) and 0.97 (confidence interval, 0.55–1.70) for the contrasts between tertile 1 (lowest level) and tertiles 2 and 3, respectively. These estimates were unaffected by adjustment for body mass, accumulated time of breast-feeding and menopause, and other breast cancer risk factors. These results do not lend support to the hypothesis that DDT is causally related to breast cancer at the body-burden levels found in our study population but do not exclude the possibility that higher levels of exposure could still play a role in the etiology of this tumor.
This study was supported by grants from The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Secretariat of Health of Mexico, the United States National Cancer Institute, and the Committee for Studies on Environmental Recovery (COPERA) of Mexico City.