PFAS Chemicals Linked to Liver Cancer in Humans: Study

We recently published the results of a scientific study demonstrating that exposure to toxic PFAS chemicals* during pregnancy is contributing to rising rates of liver disease in children. Now, another new study–the first study to examine PFAS exposure and the link with hepatocellular carcinoma in humans– has demonstrated that exposure to PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ can significantly increase an adult’s risk for liver cancer.  Researchers found that those people who had the highest exposure to PFAS chemicals were 4.5 times more likely to develop liver cancer**.

*The family of PFAS chemicals (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance) are known endocrine-disrupting chemicals and toxic to humans; they are ubiquitous in the U.S., appearing in drinking water and in every manner of products.  PFOS (perfluooctane sulfate) and PFOA are two types of PFAS chemicals that can be found in food packaging and plastic water bottles (where it can leach into the food you eat and drink), and numerous consumer products including cookware/bake ware/cooking utensils, stain-resistant and waterproof furniture, clothing and carpet, household products, personal care products, cosmetics, and more. PFAS chemicals have biological half-lives that are still unknown. In other words, scientists say that the chemicals do not break down in the environment or human/animal bodies, thus the nickname “forever” chemicals.  PFAS chemicals have been shown in scientific studies to adversely affect the immune system and hormonal system.  Additionally, PFAS chemicals disrupt the metabolism of a person’s liver, putting them at risk of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).  This can occur because PFAS chemicals can become embedded in the liver and significantly alter its ability to function due to the chemicals’ hepatotoxic and metabolism-disrupting effects. An estimated 25% of Americans have already been diagnosed with this liver disease. NAFLD sufferers are known to be at an increased risk of developing cancer.

**More specifically, non-viral hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC)…Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common form of liver cancer, accounting for 85% of cases. With a 5-year survival of less than 20%, HCC is one of the most fatal cancers.

Study overview

The research team gathered medical data from the Multi-ethnic Cohort Study (MEC) for a nested case-control study. Scientists chose 50 individuals that had developed liver cancer and for the control group, researchers chose 50 other participants that did not have liver cancer.  Case subjects and control subjects were matched by age, sex, race, and region (study area). Researchers analyzed blood samples taken from the cancer patients prior to their diagnosis, and compared it to the control group of those who never developed the disease.  PFAS exposure and risk of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) were examined.

Results overview

The scientists found that many of the people who eventually developed cancer had multiple types of the PFAS chemicals in their blood streams,*** as well as higher levels of the PFAS chemicals. The researchers identified four metabolites linking PFOS (a type of PFAS chemical) exposure with non-viral hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), each of which was positively associated with PFOS exposure and risk of HCC.  Higher levels of the PFAS chemical PFOS also increased a person’s risk of having cancer.  More specifically, the results indicated that exposure to high PFOS levels was associated with increased risk of non-viral hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).  The researchers’ assessment revealed that people in the top ten percent of exposure to PFAS chemicals were 4.5 times more likely to suffer from the cancer.

***The research demonstrated that PFOS, one type in the PFAS chemical family, appears to alter glucose metabolism, bile acid metabolism and amino acids in the liver. As a result of the disruption, more fat forms around the liver and puts a person at increased risk for developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).  As stated earlier, people who suffer from the NAFLD are at an increased risk of developing liver cancer.

induction stove on white countertop

What can you do?

Educate yourself about PFAS chemicals.  For more information on where PFAS chemicals are hiding, as well as the scientific findings about PFAS chemicals and their impact on health, go to our blog, scroll down to the bottom, and enter the letters “PFAS” (and PFOS and PFOA) into the search box.  Or contact us and we will conduct a search of our scientific database and send you the links.

To reduce your exposure to PFAS chemicals avoid highly-processed foods (including fast food) and eat only fresh foods (organic when possible) that you make yourself.  Replace stain-resistant and waterproof clothing, furniture upholstery and carpets, as well as cookware and cooking utensils that may contain PFOS/PFOA–two of the most common PFAS chemicals (here are some PFAS-Free frying pans/skillets.). Check with your local water department (or go here) to verify that your drinking water is not contaminated with PFAS chemicals.  And choose cosmetics and other personal care products that specifically state they are “PFAS-Free”.

Journal reference: Goodrich, J.A., Walker, D., & Lin, X., et al.  Exposure to perfluoroalkyl substances and risk of hepatocellular carcinoma in a multiethnic cohort, JHEP|Reports, August 8, 2022.