Last week, we told you about how PFAS have been found in almost half of America’s drinking water. As if that’s not bad enough, the news gets worse. Shocking results from a recent study have found that while they increase the risk of cancer for everyone, that increase is doubled in women.
The study found that women with higher levels of PFAS exposure are twice as likely to have a prior melanoma diagnosis as those with lower exposure. The study also discovered a link between PFAS and a history of uterine and ovarian cancers, with women who had higher exposure having slightly higher chances of previous ovarian cancer.
David Andrews, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, who was not involved in the study but reviewed the findings, said more oversight into contaminated water is needed.
“This study adds even more evidence to a growing body of scientific research linking exposure to common man-made chemical contaminants with higher risk of developing cancer. Much more scrutiny is needed to ensure that chemicals that impact the endocrine system and change hormone levels are not contaminating our bodies,” he warns.
Most Americans drink tap water that may contain chemicals, making the results notably concerning.
Researchers did not provide a definitive reason for why PFAS disproportionately impacted women, but they speculated it could be hormone-related. They emphasized the need for more investigation into the associations.
PFAS substances are endocrine system-disrupting chemicals. This system regulates hormones and biological processes from conception to old age, including brain development, nervous system function, and reproductive system growth.
The endocrine system’s major components are the ovaries, testes, pituitary, thyroid, and adrenal glands.
Researchers said their study highlighted that people with a past cancer diagnosis had elevated levels of toxins in their body across multiple types of tumors. Hormone therapy is commonly used to treat hormonally-driven cancers like breast cancer. However, exposure to endocrine-disrupting substances like PFAS can reduce its effectiveness and increase the risk of disease progression and recurrence.
Researchers analyzed data from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2005 and 2018, a program of studies designed to assess the health and nutritional status of adults and children in the US.
Data was included from approximately 27,000 people and looked at concentrations of seven PFAS and 12 phenols/parabens, types of forever chemicals, in people’s blood and urine samples.
The study didn’t provide geographical information on the participants.
The previous study (we talked about last week) by the US Geological
Based on the study we discussed last week, 45% of America’s drinking water is laced with PFAS. Researchers concluded taps in densely populated urban locations generally had higher levels of the chemicals than taps in rural areas of the country.
Researchers for this new study collected cases of self-reported diagnoses of melanoma and cancers of the thyroid, breast, ovaries, uterus, prostate, and testicles in men and women over 20 years old.
After analyzing the substances, they discovered that certain PFAS and phenols/parabens were linked to higher rates of specific cancer diagnoses.
Previous melanoma diagnoses in women were seen in those exposed to six types of PFAS. Previous ovarian cancer was seen in women exposed to three types of PFAS, and previous uterine cancer was associated with one PFAS.
Two others — known as PFNA and PFUA had nearly double the odds of a previous melanoma diagnosis.
The study found no link between PFAS and previous diagnoses in men.
The group of individuals exposed to phenol and paraben showed melanoma diagnosis in 20 men and 27 women. Thyroid cancer was diagnosed in three men and nine women. Prostate cancer was diagnosed in 104 men and breast cancer was diagnosed in 114 women. Additionally, 20 women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer, while 37 received a diagnosis of uterine cancer.
Among the other PFAS-exposed group, melanoma was observed in 52 men and 39 women, and thyroid cancer was seen in seven men and 28 women. Thirty-five women had ovarian cancer, 51 had uterine cancer, and 178 had breast cancer. Among the men, 199 had prostate cancer.
There were also racial disparities. White women had a higher likelihood of being previously diagnosed with ovarian and uterine cancer compared to Black women. Similarly, white men with PFAS exposure were more likely than black men to have a previous prostate cancer diagnosis.
The study was published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology and led by researchers from the University of California San Francisco, the University of Southern California, and the University of Michigan.