doctor and patient

October 02, 2023

Women with certain cancers had higher levels of PFAS and phenol chemicals in their bodies compared to women without the disease, according to research published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology. The study is the result of a collaboration among researchers from NIEHS-funded Environmental Health Sciences (EHS) Core Centers at the University of Southern California (USC), University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and the University of Michigan.

“These findings show that PFAS and phenols are potential environmental risk factors for cancer risk in women,” senior study author and USC EHS Core Center member Max Aung, Ph.D., told Keck School News. “Our study can be used to help prioritize which chemicals to investigate and mitigate exposure to as we continue working to reduce cancer risk.”

The study included data from more than 10,000 adults, ages 20 and older, who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2005 and 2018. The team analyzed NHANES data on self-reported previous diagnoses of skin, thyroid, breast, ovary, uterus, and prostate cancers. They compared those findings to levels of PFAS, phenols, and parabens from participants’ blood and urine samples.

Women with a previous diagnosis of skin, ovarian, or uterine cancers had higher concentrations of PFAS and phenols in their blood.

“As communities around the country grapple with PFAS contamination, policymakers should account for the results of this study as they develop a plan of action to reduce PFAS exposure,” said Tracey J. Woodruff, Ph.D., director of the UCSF EHS Core Center and study author.

The researchers also identified different risks based on racial or ethnic background. Specifically, Mexican American and other Hispanic women had higher odds of a previous diagnosis of breast or uterine cancer linked with select chemical exposures.

“Future studies should build on this work to explore intersecting social identities – such as immigrant status, educational attainment, and neighborhood factors – to better understand how to identify high-risk groups to strengthen prevention and intervention efforts,” said Aung.

Read the publication and Keck School News article to learn more.