These chemicals may increase risks of specific cancers in women

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A groundbreaking study from researchers at UC San Francisco, University of Southern California, and the University of Michigan has illuminated a significant connection between certain chemicals known to disrupt endocrine function and an increased risk of various cancers, including breast, ovarian, skin, and uterine cancers.

The research, published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, highlights the role of PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) and phenols such as BPA in these associations.

The Persistent Problem of PFAS and Phenols

PFAS and phenols are ubiquitous in the environment, found in everyday items from non-stick cookware to food packaging. Dubbed “forever chemicals” due to their persistence in the environment and within the human body, these substances are a growing concern for public health.

The study shows that women with higher levels of certain long-chained PFAS compounds have nearly double the likelihood of being diagnosed with melanoma and uterine cancer.

Hormonal Disruption and Cancer Risk

Amber Cathey, Ph.D., the study’s lead author, explains that PFAS compounds may increase cancer risk by disrupting hormonal functions, particularly in women. Hormone-related cancers seem to be significantly influenced by exposure to these chemicals.

The extensive study involved over 10,000 participants and also explored racial and ethnic disparities in chemical exposure and cancer risk.

It found that while the link between PFAS, phenols, and cancers like ovarian and uterine cancers were predominantly observed in white women, non-white women showed higher associations with breast cancer risks.

Racial Disparities and Environmental Justice

This variation in risk across different racial groups suggests an environmental justice issue that requires further examination and addresses the complex interactions between race, environmental exposure, and health outcomes.

Policy Implications and the Need for Regulation

Max Aung, Ph.D., and Tracey J. Woodruff, Ph.D., MPH, the senior authors, call for broad regulatory action. They suggest that regulating PFAS and phenols as entire classes of chemicals rather than individually could be an effective strategy to reduce public exposure.

This study provides crucial evidence that could help guide policy makers in formulating regulations to better protect public health from these pervasive environmental toxins.

Future Directions

While the study does not establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship, it presents compelling evidence that warrants further investigation into how endocrine-disrupting chemicals contribute to the development of specific cancers.

It calls for more research to clarify these links and to explore effective measures to mitigate these risks.

These findings underscore the urgent need for more stringent regulatory frameworks to limit human exposure to harmful chemicals and to safeguard public health, particularly among vulnerable populations disproportionately affected by these exposures.

The researchers emphasize the importance of continued research into the impact of environmental toxins on cancer prevalence and the mechanisms behind these effects. This could ultimately lead to more effective prevention strategies and healthier communities.

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