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Study finds 'forever chemicals' increase risk of thyroid cancer

New research shows a link between PFAS, or forever chemicals, and increased risk for thyroid cancer.
Study finds 'forever chemicals' increase risk of thyroid cancer
Posted at 3:48 PM, Oct 24, 2023

New research shows a link between PFAS, or forever chemicals, and increased risk for thyroid cancer. Forever chemicals are present in many products, including cleaning products and water-resistant fabrics. Thyroid cancer is often diagnosed in adults at a younger age than most other adult cancers, according to the American Cancer Society. 

Doctors were able to look at the plasma samples of patients from a biobank, examining samples from before and during the time the patients had cancer, and compared those to samples from patients who never had cancer. They found exposure to a number of different PFAS increased the risk of thyroid cancer. In particular, the researchers looked into exposure to a specific PFAS chemical called perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, or PFOS. When exposure to PFOS doubled, the risk of thyroid cancer jumped 56%. 

PFAS first came into widespread usage in the 1940s and 50s in products like non-stick cookware, stain resistant fabrics, firefighting foam and even some cosmetics. They leak into the soil, water, and air over time, and because of their "forever" nature they take a very long time to break down, which leads to increased exposure. More than 90% of Americans have some trace of these chemicals in their blood. 

Dr. Maaike Van Gerwen is director of research of otolaryngology at Mount Sinai, as well as the lead doctor in the study. She had this advice for people worried about thyroid cancer:

"If you are known to live in an area where you have a high exposure to PFAS chemicals or a potential profession where you have higher exposure, then you can then go to your doctor and ask for a PFAS testing. And if that is high in your bloodstream, higher than a certain level, they can look at your thyroid gland function." 

Scientists hope to compare risks in larger groups and by profession. The American Cancer Society says thyroid cancer is about three times more common in women than in men, and 70% more common in White people than in Black people. 

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