A new study funded by the government has found that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as forever chemicals, may increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer, melanoma, and other types of cancer in women. Previous research has already linked these chemicals to health conditions like obesity, infertility, lowered immune function, and high blood pressure.
In the study, researchers analyzed the medical records and blood samples of over 10,000 adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2005 and 2018. They found that women with previous diagnoses of melanoma, ovarian cancer, or uterine cancer had higher concentrations of forever chemicals and phenols (compounds used as antiseptics and disinfectants) in their blood.
Women exposed to higher levels of the forever chemical perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDE) had twice the odds of being diagnosed with melanoma, while women exposed to perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) and perfluoroundecanoic acid (PFUA) had nearly double the odds of a previous melanoma diagnosis. Additionally, women diagnosed with uterine cancer were more likely to have higher levels of PFNA.
Persistent exposure to PFAS is very common, with one report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finding that these chemicals are present in the blood of 97% of Americans. A study published in August by the U.S. Geological Survey also discovered that 45% of American tap water is contaminated with these forever chemicals.
While the exact mechanism behind the link between forever chemicals and cancer is not yet fully understood, research suggests that PFAS can interfere with hormone function, immune system, liver function, and metabolism, all of which can influence cancer risk. However, experts caution that this study does not prove causation and that future research is needed to determine cause and effect.
Reducing exposure to PFAS is challenging, but there are steps individuals can take to minimize their risk. This includes avoiding products like nonstick cookware and food packaging containers that may contain these chemicals. Additionally, using water filters designed to reduce PFAS contamination in drinking water can also help.
However, experts emphasize that focusing on well-established cancer prevention methods, such as avoiding excessive sun exposure, wearing sunscreen, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking, may have a greater impact on reducing the risk of developing ovarian cancer, melanoma, and other types of cancer.
This study highlights the importance of further investigating the link between forever chemicals and cancer. The findings underscore the need to prioritize these chemicals as important environmental risk factors for future cancer research.
Study: Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
U.S. Geological Survey
Environmental Working Group