The alarming findings of a recent study published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology (JESEE) reveal that these "forever chemicals," which are present in almost 50 percent of the drinking water in the U.S., pose a greater cancer risk to women than men.
The study, which is the first to suggest that PFAS affects men and women differently, was conducted by researchers from the University of California San Francisco, the University of Michigan and the University of Southern California.
Results suggest that women with higher exposure to PFAS were twice as likely to report a previous melanoma diagnosis than women in the group with the lowest exposure.
The study also reported a connection between PFAS and a previous diagnosis of uterine cancer, and that women with higher exposure to forever chemicals were more likely to report a previous diagnosis of ovarian cancer.
David Andrews, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group who was not involved with the study, said that more oversight is needed to ensure that harmful chemicals like PFAS do not enter the human body through the water supply. He also noted that the study findings are further proof that exposure to common man-made chemical contaminants does increase a person's risk of developing cancer.
The JESEE study's results are alarming because they show that tap water in most U.S. households is contaminated by cancer-causing chemicals, and a majority of Americans are used to drinking water straight from their tap.
These forever chemicals are often found in food packaging, clothes and many other products. They are known to leach into soil, drinking water, the air and food, exposing Americans to the toxins almost everywhere.
They are called forever chemicals because they don't break down in the environment or the human body. These harmful chemicals are linked not only to different types of cancer but also to birth defects in newborns.
Forever chemicals disrupt the endocrine system, which is responsible for regulating hormones and all biological processes from conception into old age, as well as the development of the brain and nervous system and the growth and function of the reproductive system.
The ovaries and testes, along with the pituitary, thyroid and adrenal glands, are major components of the endocrine system. (Related: Industry influence crippling lawmakers’ attempts to pass laws protecting consumers from FOREVER CHEMICALS.)
The JESEE study highlighted that individuals with past cancer diagnoses had higher levels of toxins in their bodies.
Hormonally-driven cancers, such as breast cancer, are usually treated with hormone therapy. However, exposure to PFAS and other endocrine-disrupting substances could make therapies less effective and result in disease progression and recurrence.
The researchers first analyzed data gathered between 2005 and 2018 from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which assessed the health and nutritional status of adults and children in America.
The data belonged to about 27,000 participants and measured blood and urine concentrations of seven PFAS and 12 phenols/parabens, which are types of forever chemicals. The study did not include geographical information about the volunteers.
According to an earlier study by the U.S. Geological Survey which tested water sources from 716 private and public water sources across the country for PFAS, at least 45 percent of drinking water sources contained at least one PFA.
The researchers found that densely populated urban locations often had higher levels of PFAS compared to rural areas. They detected the greatest concentration of PFAS in Central and Southern California, the Great Plains, the Great Lakes and the Eastern seaboard.
The researchers also analyzed self-reported diagnoses of melanoma and cancers of the breast, thyroid, ovaries, uterus, prostate and testicles in men and women older than 20. Out of all the chemicals they tested for, they reported that PFAS and phenols/parabens were linked to higher rates of certain cancer diagnoses.
Previous melanoma diagnoses were prevalent among women exposed to at least six different types of PFAS. In fact, two PFAS, namely, perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) and perfluoroundecanoic acid (PFUA), were linked to at least twice the odds of a previous melanoma diagnosis.
A previous ovarian cancer diagnosis was found to be common in women exposed to at least three types of PFAS, while previous uterine cancer was associated with exposure to one PFAS. The research team did not find any link between PFAS exposure and previous cancer diagnoses in men.
In the phenol- and paraben-exposed group of participants, the researchers observed a melanoma diagnosis in 20 men and 27 women. They also observed a thyroid cancer diagnosis in three male participants and nine female participants.
Prostate cancer was observed in 104 men and breast cancer was observed in 114 women. Meanwhile, 20 women received an ovarian cancer diagnosis while 37 women received a uterine cancer diagnosis.
In the other PFAS-exposed group, melanoma was observed in 52 men and 39 women. Thyroid cancer was seen in seven men and 28 women.
Researchers found that 35 women had ovarian cancer, 51 had uterine cancer and 178 had breast cancer. Among the men, they found that 199 had prostate cancer. White women were more likely than Black women to be previously diagnosed with ovarian and uterine cancer, and White men with PFAS exposure were more likely than Black men to have a previous prostate cancer diagnosis.
The researchers did not present a definitive reason for why women were disproportionately impacted by environmental PFAS exposure, but they hypothesized that it may be hormone-related. They noted that more studies could help shed more light on the link between PFAS exposure and cancer risk.
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Watch the video below to learn more about 3M's $10 million fine to settle a lawsuit over water contamination due to PFAS.
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