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A new study suggests that individuals with regular exposure to synthetic chemicals found in everyday household products have a greater likelihood of developing liver cancer.
Researchers from the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California determined that individuals have 350% greater odds of developing the disease if they are exposed to man-made “forever” chemicals. The study, which was published in JHEP Reports earlier this week, is the first to confirm the correlation using human samples.
“Forever” chemicals is a term used in reference to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) found in consumer and industrial products. The chemicals break down slowly and embed themselves into human tissues, especially the liver.
“This builds on the existing research, but takes it one step further,” said Jesse Goodrich, a postdoctoral scholar at the Keck School of Medicine. “Liver cancer is one of the most serious endpoints in liver disease, and this is the first study in humans to show that PFAS are associated with this disease.”
The team was able to make their determination because they were given access to human samples from the Multiethnic Cohort Study, a database of more than 200,000 residents from Los Angeles and Hawaii. They narrowed their sample size to 100 survey participants and analyzed the blood and tissue samples of 50 with the disease and 50 without cancer.
“Part of the reason there has been few human studies is because you need the right samples,” said Keck School of Medicine professor Veronica Wendy Setiawan. “When you are looking at an environmental exposure, you need samples from well before a diagnosis because it takes time for cancer to develop.”
Researchers found that subjects were 4.5 times more likely to develop hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of liver cancer, if they were in the top 10% of “forever” chemical exposure compared to those with lower levels of these chemicals in their blood.
PFAS was first discovered in human blood during the 1970s, and by the 1990s was found in the blood samples of the general population. Despite efforts by some U.S. manufacturers to phase out the usage of these chemicals, PFAS are long-lasting substances that are able to break down into water supplies. It is believed that these chemicals are present in the blood of more than 98% of adults in the United States.
“We believe our work is providing important insights into the long-term health effects that these chemicals have on human health, especially with respect to how they can damage normal liver function,” said Dr. Leda Chatz, one of the study’s researchers. “This study fills an important gap in our understanding of the true consequences of exposure to these chemicals.”