A recent study from the University of Southern California found exposure to a synthetic chemical found widely in the environment is linked to non-viral hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of liver cancer.
The chemical, called perfluooctane sulfate or PFOS, is one of a class of man-made chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.
These chemicals, which are used in a wide range of consumer and industrial products, are sometimes called forever chemicals because they break down very slowly and accumulate in the environment and human tissue, including the liver.
Prior research has found that PFAS exposure increases the risk of liver cancer, but this is the first study to confirm an association using human samples.
In the current study, the team used data from more than 200,000 residents of Los Angeles and Hawaii for the development of cancer and other diseases.
They focused on 50 participants who eventually developed liver cancer and evaluated the blood samples that were taken prior to their cancer diagnosis.
They then compared these with 50 people who did not develop cancer from the same study.
The researchers found several types of PFAS in the blood samples that were taken before the participant developed liver cancer.
The study showed that the strongest association was between PFOS and liver cancer and that subjects in the top 10% of PFOS exposure were 4.5 times more likely to develop liver cancer than those with the lowest levels of PFOS in their blood.
The team was also able to illuminate the possible ways in which PFOS altered the normal function of the liver.
Their evaluation of the samples found evidence that PFOS appears to alter the normal process of glucose metabolism, bile acid metabolism and the metabolism of a type of amino acid called branched-chain amino acids in the liver.
The disruption of normal metabolic processes in the liver can cause more fat to accumulate in the liver, a condition known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD.
There has been a dramatic and unexplained rise in NAFLD around the globe in recent years, which is concerning because people with NAFLD have a much higher risk of developing liver cancer. NAFLD is expected to affect 30% of all adults in the U.S. by 2030.
Researchers hope to further validate their findings on the link with liver cancer in a larger study later this year.
The research was published in JHEP Reports and conducted by Jesse Goodrich et al.
If you care about liver health, please read studies about dairy foods linked to liver cancer, and coffee drinkers may halve their risk of liver cancer.
For more information about liver health, please see recent studies that alternate day fasting could benefit people with fatty liver disease, and results showing anti-inflammatory diet could help prevent fatty liver disease.
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