PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ exposure linked to increased risk of ovarian and other cancers

“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.”


A new study has found a link between PFAS exposure and increased risk of certain types of cancer, including ovarian, melanoma, uterine and breast cancers. The research linked exposure of these “forever chemicals” to more of these hormone-related cancers in women, but not in men.

The team of researchers analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2005 to 2018. 

They reviewed seven per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) concentrations and 12 phenols or parabens as well as self-reported diagnoses of melanoma and hormone-related cancers, such as thyroid, ovarian, uterine, testicular, prostate and breast cancers for people over 20 years of age. 

In total, the researchers studied nearly 17,000 people in the PFAS dataset and more than 10,400 people in the phenols/parabens dataset. The researchers noted that phenols and parabens were not included in the 2017-2018 survey, leading to the smaller dataset.

Ultimately, they found associations between both PFAS and phenols/parabens exposures and reported cancer diagnoses. They published their findings in the journal Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology.

“Of note, the PFAS chemicals PFDE, PFNA, and PFUA were associated with increased odds of prior melanoma diagnosis among women, but not men. Also, among women, concentrations of BPA, BP3, and two dichlorophenols were associated with greater odds of ovarian cancer,” the authors wrote in the study. “Both dichlorophenols showed positive associations with the odds of every cancer type assessed, particularly among women. Finally, greater odds of previous cancer diagnoses among White women were observed with higher PFAS exposure, while Black and Mexican American women were more likely to have a previous cancer diagnosis with increased phenol/paraben exposure.”

PFAS are a group of synthetic chemicals found in many products that people use or are exposed to daily, including nonstick cookware, stain-resistant fabrics, water-repelling fabrics, food packaging, carpets, paint and more. PFAS have been found in breast milk, as well as in human and animal blood, the CDC reported.

In 2022, a five-year study found PFAS present in umbilical cord blood, and another study published in early 2023 found that PFAS could disrupt biological processes in children. 

The authors of the latest study concluded that their findings could help policymakers further evaluate the risks of exposure to these chemicals.

“People should care about this because we know that there is widespread human exposure to these chemicals and we have documented data on that,” Max Aung, senior author of the study and an assistant professor of environmental health at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, told The Guardian. “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.”


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Based in Los Angeles, Paige Bennett is a writer who is passionate about sustainability. Aside from writing for EcoWatch, Paige also writes for Insider, HomeAdvisor, Thrillist, EuroCheapo, Eat This, Not That! and more. She earned her Bachelor's degree in Journalism from Ohio University and holds a certificate in Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She also specialized in sustainable agriculture while pursuing her undergraduate degree. When she's not writing, Paige enjoys decorating her apartment, enjoying a cup of coffee and experimenting in the kitchen (with local, seasonal ingredients, of course!).