Plastic waste (symbolic image)
Photo: Rolf Vennenbernd / dpa
They are found in shampoos, the coating of pans or rainwear and in packaging: PFAS, so-called eternal chemicals, are found in a number of everyday things. They have long been suspected of being harmful to health, such as impairing the function of the liver or thyroid gland or causing cancer. A study in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology now shows that the chemicals can lead to an increased risk of cancer in women.
According to the researchers, people suffering from breast, ovarian, skin and uterine cancer had higher levels of endocrine-damaging chemicals in the body, which can affect the endocrine system under certain conditions. This does not prove that exposure to chemicals such as PFAS and phenols led to cancer diagnoses, according to a statement on the study. But it is a clear sign that it could play a role and should be further investigated.
PFAS stands for per- and polyfluorinated alkyl compounds. This is a group of several thousand individual chemicals that accumulate in the body and in the environment over a long period of time. Once in the environment, the chemical substances are hardly degraded. That is why they are also referred to as "eternal chemicals".
The researchers have now found that, especially in women who had a higher exposure to the PFAS compound PFDE, the likelihood of a previous melanoma diagnosis doubled. With higher exposure to the PFAS compounds PFNA and PFUA, this probability was almost twice as high. The researchers were unable to establish such a correlation in men. "These PFAS chemicals appear to disrupt hormone function in women, which is a possible mechanism that increases the likelihood of hormone-related cancers in women," said Amber Cathey, lead author of the study, according to a statement.
The study also shows a connection between PFNA and an earlier diagnosis of uterine cancer, the scientists write. Women with higher exposure to phenols such as BPA and 2,5-dichlorophenol, a chemical used in dyes, for example, and a byproduct of wastewater treatment, were more likely to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer earlier.
For the study, the scientists used data from blood and urine samples from more than 10,000 people from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a nationwide biomonitoring program in the USA. They looked at current exposure to phenols and PFAS in the context of previous cancer diagnoses. Researchers from UC San Francisco, the University of Southern California and the University of Michigan were involved in the study.
According to the European Environment Agency (EEA), 83 percent of people in Germany are exposed to the chemical BPA in quantities that are harmful to health.
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