First Human Study Links Forever Chemicals to Liver Cancer
By M. C. Millman
With something new linked to cancer almost every day, it is hard to react with conviction and know which studies must be taken seriously.
Forever chemicals, also known as PFAS are appropriately named as they hardly degrade in the natural environment. They are found in paper and cardboard food packaging, nonstick cookware such as Teflon pans, waterproof textiles, cosmetics, electronics, drinking water, and soil.
While PFAS have been linked with cancer in animal studies, it has been difficult to conduct human studies.
“Part of the reason there has been few human studies is because you need the right samples,” added Veronica Wendy Setiawan, professor at the Keck School of Medicine. “When you are looking at an environmental exposure, you need samples from well before a diagnosis because it takes time for cancer to develop.”
The first human study on PFAS, published on August 8 of this year, demonstrates a correlation between liver cancer, the 3rd leading cause of cancer death worldwide, and forever chemicals. The study was conducted by researchers from the Keck School of Medicine of USC and published in JHEP Reports.
“This builds on the existing research but takes it one step further,” said Jesse Goodrich, a postdoctoral public health researcher at 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.”
Researchers conducted this study by using blood and tissue samples of people in a group with cancer. The samples were analyzed for traces of forever chemicals present in the body before the individuals became ill.
The researchers found several types of forever chemicals among participants. PFOS was the most prominent forever chemical seen in participants with liver cancer. Study participants with the top 10 percent PFOS exposure had 4.5 more odds of developing liver cancer.
“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 Leda Chatzi, MD, Ph.D., professor of population and public health sciences. “This study fills an important gap in our understanding of the true consequences of exposure to these chemicals.”