A new scientific study has found that there are some “forever chemicals” that could be associated with an increased risk of people developing thyroid cancer.
Scientists have already identified that exposure to the compounds, called PFAS, could be a contributing factor to recent increases in thyroid cancer cases. However, there hasn’t been much research that’s studied the human population, according to the authors of the study.
In a statement that accompanied the results, the study’s co-corresponding author, Maaike van Gerwen of Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, said:
“We wanted to dive into the potential environmental factors that could be the cause for this rise.”
The findings of the study were published on Tuesday in The Lancet’s eBioMedicine. The researchers of the study said they wanted to explore any connections that could be made between diagnoses of thyroid cancer and any available plasma levels of the PFAS, or the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.
PFAS have long been known to remain in the body for a very long time, as well as in the environment. They’ve been linked already to a number of different serious illnesses, which includes kidney cancer, testicular cancer and thyroid cancer.
One of the main problems is that there are thousands of different PFAS. In addition, many of these chemicals serve as common ingredients for many household products, including waterproof apparel, cosmetics and even non-stick cooking pans.
Between 1974 and 2013, cases of thyroid cancer have increased, on average, 3.6% annually in the U.S. The study also reported that similar surges of thyroid cancer cases have happened around the world.
The authors of the study identified 88 different patients who had thyroid cancer and whose plasma PFAS levels could be accessed through the BioMe, which is a medical biobank that Mount Sinai houses.
They then evaluated these patients along 88 matching controls who didn’t have cancer, and measured the levels of eight PFAS that were present in all the blood samples.
What they observed was that exposure to PFOS – which is considered to be a notorious PFAS – led to an increased risk of developing thyroid cancer of 56%.
The researchers did a follow-up analysis of a 31-patient subgroup that confirmed the positive association that was first suggested. In addition, they made other similar connections with additional PFAS, including PFHxS, PFOPA and PFNA.
As the authors laid out:
“There is strong biological plausibility linking PFAS exposure to thyroid cancer risk.”
The researchers suggested that PFAS could be able to transform healthy cells into cancerous ones because they can interfere with bodily processes including hormone activity, metabolism, inflammation, immunosuppression and gene function.
In a statement, one of the other co-corresponding authors of the study, Lauren Petrick, who serves as a Mount Sinai associate professor, said:
“The results of this study provide further confirmation for the PFAS health crisis and underline the need to reduce, and hopefully one day eliminate, PFAS exposure.”
Petrick added that it’s “nearly impossible to avoid PFAS in our daily activities,” but it’s important that the public needs to be more aware of the dangers of them.