Phthalate Exposure Believed to Increase Cancer Risk in Children

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Phthalate Exposure Believed to Increase Cancer Risk in Children

Phthalates, which are known as the ‘everywhere chemical’ might be causing increased amounts of cancer in children, according to new research conducted the University of Vermont Cancer Center.

These substances are chemical additives which are added to plastics and literally hundreds of consumer products to improve consistency and/or durability. When they leach out of the products they enter the environment, posing a risk to humans.

Some medications, such as those requiring delayed or extended drug release in order to work correctly, contain phthalates as inactive ingredients. Examples include some antibiotics as well as anti-inflammatory medications.

Gestational and Childhood Phthalate Exposure Concerns

The Journal of the National Cancer Institute reports that exposure to this substance might increase the chances of some childhood cancers, so minimizing exposure is a good idea.

The association between childhood and gestational phthalate exposures was examined in depth in the study. Thomas Ahern PhD MPH, who is an associate professor based at the Larner College of Medicine, Vermont, along with experts from Denmark’s Odense University Hospital and Aarhus University, to look at data.

The Danish Cancer Registry, Danish Medicines Agency and Danish Medical Birth Registry, all of which Denmark’s universal healthcare system supports, were used in the study. Almost 1.3 million children were included in the study, which is every live birth between 1997 and 2017.

There were 2,027 childhood cancer cases in total, and researchers measured both gestational (in utero) and childhood exposure to phthalates along with specific cancers.

Increased Rate of Specific Cancers in Childhood

The study revealed a 20% higher childhood cancer rate overall with childhood exposure (not gestational exposure). This figure includes an almost threefold higher osteosarcoma (a type of bone cancer) diagnosis rate along with a twofold higher incidence of lymphoma (cancer of the blood) diagnosis rate.

Ahern said these new results add to an increasing amount of evidence that commonly used phthalates can negatively impact human health. He also reported that the study examined exposure to phthalates based on medications containing the substance on prescription fills. 

Although these medication-based exposures are greater than what humans are exposed to in the environment, the fact they might cause cancer is of course a serious concern.

Phthalates Disrupt the Endocrine System

Professor Frances Carr PhD, from The American Association for the Advancement of Science, along with UVM Larger College of Medicine, states phthalates are endocrine disruptors, a fact which is recognized today, since they can interfere with hormonal systems in the body and possibly also thyroid function.

Carr says that although further studies are needed, it is a fact that phthalate exposure has been linked to breast and thyroid tumors as well as other solid forms of tumors. Phthalates as well as other types of plasticizers (BPA for example) are commonly found in the environment, and chronic low dose exposures as well as the age of exposure can be important risk factors for negative effects on human health, according to Carr.

In Conclusion

Although there has not been a direct correlation made between an increased cancer risk and regional phthalates, the study is important because it highlights how ubiquitous environmental exposures might be related to cancer risk incidence, according to Randall Holcombe MD MBA from UVM Cancer Center.

The authors of the study state future research should explore which combination of phthalates or which specific one is the riskiest and look at how exactly these substances are driving up the risks of lymphoma and osteosarcoma. 

Holcombe hopes that ongoing research will result in a better understanding about mitigating environmental phthalate risks.

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