- Chemicals like PFOA and PFOS, common in various household items, have been linked to causing cancer in animals. The impact of regular exposure on human cancer risks is still unclear.
- High concentrations of PFOA and PFOS have been found in human blood samples and could potentially hinder fertility in women.
- A recent study suggested that these chemicals may not significantly increase the risk of prostate, bladder, pancreatic, or liver cancer. However, more research is necessary before definitive conclusions can be drawn.
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has made efforts to significantly reduce and eventually eliminate the usage of PFOA, due to its association with systemic and developmental toxicity.
- Despite the uncertainty about these chemicals’ role in causing specific cancers, experts recommend avoiding them due to their potential health risks.
Chemicals such as perfluorooctanoate and perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOA, PFOS), commonly incorporated in a spectrum of household items, have long been linked to causing cancer in animals. Despite their widespread presence in food packaging, pesticides, apparel, indoor textiles, and personal care products, the impact of normal exposure levels on human cancer risks remains ambiguous, according to a recent report.
The Prevalence of PFOA and PFOS
PFOA and PFOS have been identified in human blood samples from those in occupations involving exposure to these chemicals, and even in individuals with no such association. High concentrations of these chemicals have been seen to cause cancer in animals, however, their correlation with human cancer is yet to be indisputably established.
Associated Reproductive Health Concerns
An earlier paper in Human Reproduction further postulated a potential impediment to fertility in women as a result of PFOA/PFOS exposure.
New Findings on PFOA/PFOS and Cancer Risk
However, a recent investigation featured in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute suggests that these chemicals might not promote an elevated risk of prostate, bladder, pancreatic, or liver cancer.
“This inaugural study of PFOA/PFOS and cancer risk assessment in a general population warrants careful analysis,” noted Ole Raaschou-Nielsen, a top researcher at the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology at the Danish Cancer Society based in Copenhagen. Adding that this research is just the commencement, he suggested that definitive conclusions require the support of additional studies.
Nonetheless, Raaschou-Nielsen emphasized the necessity for future research to replicate these findings before steps towards practical implications can be considered.
A Closer Look into the Study
In the study, a large cohort of Danes free of cancer between 1993 and 1997 was scrutinized. Comparisons were made between individuals who subsequently developed cancer and a group remaining cancer-free.
The participants were subdivided into quartiles based on their PFOA and PFOS blood concentrations. “There seems to be no correlation between PFOA and PFOS plasma levels and the likelihood of prostate, bladder, pancreatic, or liver cancer in the general Danish population,” Raaschou-Nielsen stated.
He also pointed out that this study did not explore the potential cancer risks with elevated blood levels of PFOA/PFOS, something that is possible among those working with these chemicals or individuals residing near a manufacturing facility that emits PFOA/PFOS.
The Path Forward
In 2006, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) persuaded eight PFOA manufacturers to commit to a 95% reduction of PFOA emissions and product content on a global scale by 2010, and to eliminate these completely by 2015. This step was initiated due to the chemical’s association with ‘systemic and developmental toxicity’.
Furthermore, 3M, being the sole manufacturer of PFOS in the United States, agreed to discontinue production and usage of the chemical almost a decade ago.
Dr. Michael J. Thun, who served as vice president emeritus for Epidemiology and Surveillance Research at the American Cancer Society, views these findings as compelling but not definitive.
“The ultimate solution is to prevent exposure to these chemicals altogether,” Thun opined. With numerous potential adverse health outcomes, he believes it’s impractical to guarantee their absolute safety.
The bottom line for the public, according to Thun, is to steer clear of these chemicals despite their uncertainty in causing specific cancers.
For more about environmental cancer risks, visit the U.S. National Cancer Institute.