PFAS linked to rising thyroid cancer rates, new study says

A recent study, funded by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), has uncovered compelling evidence linking per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to increased thyroid cancer risk.    

Known as "forever chemicals" due to their persistence in the environment, PFAS are commonly found in many consumer products, including food packaging.    

The research analyzed blood samples from 88 thyroid cancer patients and 88 healthy individuals matched by age, sex, and other factors. Plasma levels of eight prominent PFAS were measured. Results showed a 56% higher rate of thyroid cancer diagnosis for every doubling of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) levels. Similar associations were seen when focusing only on papillary thyroid cancer (the most common form).    

Strikingly, the positive connection between PFOS exposure and cancer held even for patients diagnosed over a year after their blood was drawn. This suggests that PFAS impact may manifest many years later.    

Once widely used, the production of specific PFAS, like PFOS and PFOA, has been phased out. However, they persist in water systems and the food chain. Recent analyses by organizations like the UK Royal Society of Chemistry and the US Geological Survey found PFAS contamination across England, Wales, and nearly half of American drinking water sources.    

To address ongoing exposure, the RSC advocates decreasing allowed PFAS levels in drinking water tenfold. A combined contamination limit and national inventory of sources are also recommended. Stricter industrial discharge standards and improved chemicals regulation oversight are emphasized. More information here.    

In the US, a new EPA study found PFOA and PFOS exceeded health guidelines in 7-9% of assessed water providers. This has prompted calls for revised drinking water standards and increased testing. More details here.

While some food brands are phasing out PFAS usage, especially in food packaging, critics say swift and comprehensive policy changes are still needed, both in Europe and the US.    

The NIH study adds to the body of research raising alarms over health hazards from ubiquitous "forever chemicals." With exposure widespread, scientists stress the need for precautionary regulatory reforms to curb risks like rising thyroid cancer rates.      



The Lancet