By John Patterson
Staff Writer for Wake Up World
In a study that sheds light on the potential role of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in various cancers, researchers have discovered a significant connection between elevated chemical exposure and the occurrence of breast, ovarian, skin, and uterine cancers.
While the study does not definitively establish a causal relationship, it underscores the urgent need for further investigation into the potential carcinogenic effects of substances such as per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and phenols, including the infamous bisphenol A (BPA).
Exploring the Research
The study, conducted by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), the University of Southern California (USC), and the University of Michigan, harnessed data from more than 10,000 participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). This extensive research aimed to assess the correlation between current exposure to PFAS and phenols and prior cancer diagnoses, as well as investigate potential disparities among different racial and ethnic groups.
The findings, published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology on September 17, 2023, deliver compelling insights into the impact of these endocrine-disrupting chemicals on our health.
The Connection Between PFAS and Cancer
Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have become distressingly omnipresent in our environment. They infiltrate our lives through everyday products like Teflon cookware, waterproof clothing, stain-resistant textiles, and even food packaging. Aptly nicknamed “forever chemicals,” PFAS are notorious for their resistance to breaking down, leading to long-lasting contamination of water, food, and, alarmingly, our bodies.
Dr. Amber Cathey, the lead author of the study and a research faculty scientist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, emphasizes that PFAS disrupt hormone function in women. This disruption serves as a potential mechanism that increases the likelihood of hormone-related cancers in women. The research revealed particularly striking results for women, with higher exposure to PFDE, a long-chained PFAS compound, doubling the odds of a prior melanoma diagnosis. Furthermore, women with increased exposure to PFNA and PFUA, two other long-chained PFAS compounds, had nearly double the odds of previously being diagnosed with melanoma.
Phenols and Their Impact
Phenols, a group of compounds that include the notorious BPA (commonly found in plastics) and 2,5-dichlorophenol (a chemical prevalent in dyes and wastewater treatment by-products), also emerged as potential culprits in cancer diagnoses. The study unveiled a concerning link between PFNA and prior uterine cancer diagnoses. Moreover, women with elevated exposure to phenols had higher odds of previous ovarian cancer diagnoses.
Racial Disparities in Chemical Exposure
Remarkably, the study uncovered racial disparities in the associations between these chemicals and cancer. Associations between various PFAS and ovarian and uterine cancers were found predominantly among white women. In contrast, the links between a PFAS called MPAH and a phenol called BPF and breast cancer were observed mainly among non-white women.
Policy Implications and Future Directions
The implications of this research are profound and call for immediate action. Dr. Tracey J. Woodruff, UCSF professor and director of the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment, advocates for regulating PFAS as a class of chemicals, rather than addressing them individually. As communities across the nation grapple with PFAS contamination, this study adds to the growing body of evidence supporting the need for comprehensive policies to reduce PFAS exposure.
The recent study conducted by researchers from UCSF, USC, and the University of Michigan has provided vital insights into the potential link between endocrine-disrupting chemicals, such as PFAS and phenols, and hormone-related cancers.
While further research is required to definitively establish causation, these findings underscore the urgency of addressing chemical exposure as a potential risk factor for cancer. As we navigate the complexities of regulating these substances, it is crucial to prioritize the health and well-being of all individuals, regardless of their race or ethnicity. By doing so, we can move closer to a world where the threat of endocrine-disrupting chemicals on our health is significantly diminished.
- Amber L. Cathey, Vy K. Nguyen, Justin A. Colacino, Tracey J. Woodruff, Peggy Reynolds, Max T. Aung. Exploratory profiles of phenols, parabens, and per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances among NHANES study participants in association with previous cancer diagnoses. Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, 2023; DOI: 10.1038/s41370-023-00601-6
About the author:
John Patterson is an avid writer and researcher who delves into the latest scientific research. With an insatiable curiosity, he translates complex concepts into accessible narratives, allowing readers to embark on a journey of discovery. Through his work, John bridges the gap between experts and the public, igniting curiosity and inspiring meaningful conversations about scientific breakthroughs.