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Does PFAS Cause Breast Cancer?

Studies have found that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are suspected endocrine (hormone) disruptors and potential human carcinogens, which have been linked to an increased risk for breast cancer and other severe, potentially life-threatening health conditions.
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Study Finds PFAS a Risk Factor for Breast Cancer

A September 2022 study published in Environmental Health [1] has implicated exposure to PFAS as a risk factor for breast cancer in the United States and Europe.

The researchers enrolled 373 breast cancer patients and 657 controls who were treated at Tianjin Medical University Cancer Institute and Hospital between 2012 and 2016. Results indicated that perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) exhibited the highest concentration in both the cases and controls and that perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluoro-n-decanoic acid (PFDA) were positively associated with breast cancer. PFOS, PFOA, and PFDA all belong to the PFAS group of chemicals.

Related Article: PFAS Exposure Lawsuit Update

PFOA (Perfluorooactanoic Acid)

Perfluorooactanoic acid is a highly fluorinated compound with low surface tension, making it effective in the manufacture of non-stick, water-resistant, and stain-resistant products. PFOA has been used to make PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) products such as Gore-Tex, Teflon, and anti-aging cosmetics.

PFOA is very stable and accumulates in the blood, as well as in lung and kidney tissues. Increased intake of PFOA through breastfeeding has been found to decrease infants’ gut microbiome, a factor that has been linked to an increased risk for breast cancer in adults. Exposure to PFOA at higher rates in early childhood has been associated with decreased Body Mass Index, HDL-cholesterol levels, and insulin resistance in young girls.

PFOS (Perfluorooctanesulfonic Acid)

Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid is very similar to PFOA and is just as commonly found in the environment. The main use of PFOS is as a stain repellent and fabric protector; it is the main ingredient in Scotchguard and is also found in firefighting foams.

PFOS levels in the U.S. population have been decreasing in recent years, as the chemical has been phased out of use in America. However, PFOS is found ubiquitously in human samples and has been detected in amniotic fluid and umbilical cord blood, and has been linked to lower birth weights.

PFHxS (Perfluorohexane Sulfonic Acid)

Perfluorohexane sulfonic acid is also ubiquitous in the environment, and multiple studies have found PFHxS in nearly all people tested for PFAS. A Swedish study detected high levels of several PFAS including PFHxS in firefighters compared to a control group, and a 2020 study found that female San Francisco firefighters had more than twice the levels of serum PFHxS (along with raised levels of PFUnDA and PFNA) compared to office workers.

PFHxS has been found to alter development, especially in the reproductive system. PFHxS has also been detected in breast milk, and scientists have concluded that breastfeeding is a considerable source of exposure to PFAS for infants.

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