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New research shows that people who are regularly exposed to synthetic chemicals found in everyday household products are more likely to develop liver cancer.

Researchers at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine have determined that people are 350% more likely to develop a disease when they are exposed to man-made “perpetual” 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 to refer to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in consumer and industrial products. Chemicals slowly break down and become embedded in human tissues, especially the liver.

“It builds on existing research, but takes it one step further,” said Jesse Goodrich, a postdoctoral fellow at the Keck School of Medicine. “Liver cancer is one of the most serious endpoints in liver disease, and this is the first human study to show that PFAS is associated with this disease.”

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are found in many everyday household products.
(iStock)

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The team was able to make the decision 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 the sample size to 100 survey participants and analyzed blood and tissue samples from 50 people with the disease and 50 without cancer.

“Part of the reason there’s been so little human research is because you need the right samples,” said Veronica Keck School of Medicine professor Wendy Setiawan. “When you’re looking at environmental exposure, you need samples long before diagnosis because cancer takes time to develop.”

The researchers found that the subjects were 4.5 times more likely to develop hepatocellular carcinomathe most common type of liver cancer when they are in the top 10% of “eternal” chemical exposures compared to people with lower levels of these chemicals in their blood.

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PFAS were first detected in human blood in the 1970s and by the 1990s were found in blood samples of the general population. Despite efforts by some US manufacturers to phase out these chemicals, PFAS are long-acting substances that can break down in water bodies. These chemicals are believed to be present in the blood of more than 98% of US adults.

“We believe that our work provides important information about the long-term effects of these chemicals on human health, especially with regard to how they can damage the normal functioning of the liver,” said Dr. Leda Chatz, one of the study’s investigators. “This study fills an important gap in our understanding of the true effects of exposure to these chemicals.”

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