Certain common chemicals associated with higher odds of cancer in women

By Carey Gillam

Women exposed to several widely used chemicals appear to face increased odds for ovarian and other certain types of cancers, including a doubling of odds for melanoma, according to new research funded by the US government.

Using data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a team of academic researchers found evidence that women diagnosed with some “hormonally-driven” cancers had exposures to certain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are used in thousands of household and industrial products, including in stain- and heat-resistant items.

They found similar links between women diagnosed with cancer and high exposures to phenols, which are commonly used in food packaging, dyes and personal care products.

The study, published late Sunday in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, did not find similar associations between the chemicals and cancer diagnoses in men.

PFAS chemicals, in particular, may disrupt hormone functions specific to women – a potential mechanism for increasing their odds of hormone-related cancers, the researchers determined. Hormonally active cancers are common and hard to cure, making deeper inquiry into potential environmental causes critical, the researchers said.

“People should care about this because we know that there is widespread human exposure to these chemicals and we have documented data on that,” said Max Aung, assistant professor of environmental health at USC Kreck School of Medicine and a senior author of the study.

“These chemicals can increase the risk of various different health outcomes and they can alter your biological pathways… that is important to know so that we can better prevent exposures and mitigate risks,” Aung said.