PFAS, including PFOA and PFOS, continue infiltrating our environment, with over 98% of the US population displaying detectable levels in their blood. Researchers continue to study Forever Chemicals for their link to kidney cancer. This prompted Dr. Jonathan Hofmann and his team to lead a comprehensive study in 2020. The groundbreaking research, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, examines the relationship between PFAS exposure and kidney cancer risk.

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The 2020 Study: Investigating PFAS and Cancer

In their extensive study, Dr. Hofmann and colleagues utilized data from the PLCO Cancer Screening Trial. By measuring PFAS levels in blood samples collected before cancer diagnosis, the researchers aimed to minimize bias and gain a deeper understanding of the association between PFAS and kidney cancer. The findings were alarming—participants with the highest concentrations of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a prominent PFAS, were more than twice as likely to develop kidney cancer.

Race and Kidney Cancer Risk

Recognizing the need for a more diverse perspective, the researchers extended their investigation to the Multiethnic Cohort Study (MEC). This additional segment of the study, published in Environment International, offered valuable insights into the varied associations between PFAS and kidney cancer risk among different racial and ethnic groups. Contrary to expectations, the MEC study found no overall association between PFOA levels and kidney cancer risk. However, a distinct positive link emerged among non-Hispanic White participants, echoing the PLCO findings.

Occupational Exposure: Identifying At-Risk Occupations

An essential aspect of understanding PFAS exposure and kidney cancer risk involves recognizing at-risk occupations. Certain occupations involve higher levels of exposure to PFAS due to the nature of the work, potentially elevating the risk of kidney cancer. Occupations such as firefighters, industrial workers, and individuals working in facilities involved with the production or use of PFAS-containing products may face heightened exposure. Researchers continue to explore the correlation between occupational exposure to PFAS and risk of kidney cancer.

African Americans at Higher Risk

Intriguingly, the study also revealed that higher levels of PFNA, another frequently detected PFAS, were associated with an increased risk of kidney cancer. This association was most pronounced among African American participants, a group already known for having a higher incidence of kidney cancer. The elevated PFNA and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) concentrations in Black participants compared to non-Hispanic White counterparts highlighted the disparities in PFAS exposure.

Firefighter Cancer Risks: Protecting Those at the Frontlines

Considering the potential impact of occupational exposure, it becomes crucial to identify at-risk occupations associated with elevated PFAS exposure. For example, firefighters face exposure due to the use of PFAS-containing firefighting foams. Moreover, firefighters sustain exposure through turnout gear containing PFAS and dust that accumulates in the firehouses. As scientific knowledge grows, stringent occupational safety guidelines to minimize PFAS exposure in at risk professions becomes increasingly urgent.

Kidney Cancer and PFAS Exposure: What Do I Do?

Not only does this study show PFAS exposure can cause kidney cancer but also emphasize the need to protect diverse populations and at-risk occupations. We can channel this knowledge into actionable steps—raising awareness, implementing preventive measures, and advocating for policies that safeguard vulnerable communities and occupational groups. Additionally, more than 5,000 people with kidney cancer have filed lawsuits to seek compensation for their injuries. They seek to hold 3M and DuPont, producers of PFAS, accountable by proving these chemicals caused their kidney cancer. By staying informed and actively addressing these challenges, we pave the way for a healthier, safer future for all.

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