Do Common Household Chemicals Cause Cancer in Women?
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“The average American woman uses over 160 chemicals on her skin each day…”
The average American woman uses over 160 chemicals on her skin each day through skincare and personal care products. She is also exposed to numerous other chemicals from cleaning products and cookware to clothing and furniture. Among these, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and phenols like Bisphenol A (BPA) have garnered attention for their potential health risks, especially concerning their impact on the endocrine system and the potential subsequent development of cancer in women.
PFAS compounds have been utilized for decades in various household products due to their non-stick and water-repellent properties. They are commonly found in non-stick cookware, food packaging (such as microwave popcorn bags), stain-resistant fabrics, and even in certain cosmetics and personal care items. They have unfortunately also made their way into water sources and the food system. Their persistence in the environment and slow degradation rates mean they can accumulate in the body over time, posing potential health risks including links to cancer, particularly breast and ovarian cancer in women.
“BPA’s ability to mimic estrogen has raised concerns about its impact on hormone-related cancers…”
Similarly, BPA, a chemical used in the production of plastics, has become commonplace in our homes. It’s present in plastic containers, food packaging, water bottles, and even in the lining of canned goods and disposable coffee cups. BPA’s ability to mimic estrogen has raised concerns about its impact on hormone-related cancers, notably breast cancer. Studies suggest that BPA exposure might disrupt hormone regulation, potentially contributing to the development of cancerous cells.
A recent study conducted by researchers from UC San Francisco, University of Southern California and University of Michigan and published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology examined data from more than 10,000 individuals to investigate the relationship between current exposure to phenols, parabens and PFAS in relation to previous cancer diagnoses.
The concentrations of 7 PFAS and 12 phenols/parabens were collected and compared against self-reported previous diagnoses of melanoma and cancers of the thyroid, prostate in both men and women and of breast, ovary, uterus, and prostate in women.
“…there is a clear relationship between exposure to PFAS and BPA and prior cancer diagnoses.”
Researchers found that “biomarkers across all exposure categories […] were cross-sectionally associated with increased odds of previous melanoma diagnoses in women, and increased odds of previous ovarian cancer was associated with several phenols and parabens.” In short, there is a clear relationship between exposure to PFAS and BPA and prior cancer diagnoses. The findings also reflect sex differences for melanoma risk and a “potential estrogen-dependent mechanism” of action.
Since these types of cancer are hormone-mediated, meaning they depend on endogenous and exogenous hormones driving cell proliferation, it is no surprise that chemicals with potential hormonal side effects would be present in individuals diagnosed with these cancers.
“…many other studies have shown the possible hormonal impacts these chemicals can have…”
While the study does not, however, prove a causal relationship between exposure to these chemicals and the onset of cancer, the findings strongly suggest that they may play a role and that further mechanical studies into their causality are indicated. And because many other studies have shown the possible hormonal impacts these chemicals can have, including on concentration of estrogens, avoiding or minimizing exposure is an important step for optimizing women’s health.
“…use cookware made from stainless steel or cast iron instead of non-stick varieties made with Teflon.”
While completely eliminating exposure to these chemicals is challenging, it is possible to minimize exposure through thoughtful swaps. For example, use cookware made from stainless steel or cast iron instead of non-stick varieties made with Teflon. Look for PFAS-free labels on products and switch to glass or stainless steel containers for food storage. If you must use plastic, avoid heating it in the microwave or leaving plastic water bottles in a hot car since this can increase the release of BPA.
Additionally, invest in a quality water filter to reduce exposure to PFAS that might be present in drinking water sources. A filter has the added benefit of removing other potentially harmful chemicals and toxins as well.
These findings shed light on the importance of further research in order to better understand environmental triggers that impact cancer development. It may also be necessary to reconsider the laws and regulations around these chemicals in order to minimize exposure on a mass-scale.