Study: ‘Forever Chemicals’ Linked to Testicular Cancer in Military

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Aug. 9, 2023 -- A new study shows a link between testicular cancer and “forever chemicals” found in the blood of thousands of military servicemen.

Previous studies have found a connection between higher rates of testicular cancer among firefighters, citing perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in foam used to battle blazes. But the direct link between PFAS and testicular cancer among servicemen was not addressed, KFF Health News reported.

In the new study, researchers from the National Cancer Institute and Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences used blood drawn from men in the Air Force. They found a direct association between PFOS, a PFAS chemical, and testicular cancer.

“Airmen who were firefighters had elevated levels of PFAS in their bloodstreams and weaker evidence (was found) for those who lived on installations with high levels of PFAS in the drinking water,” KFF reported. Airmen with testicular cancer had higher serum levels of PFOS than those who did not have cancer, said study co-author Mark Purdue, a senior investigator at NCI.

“To my knowledge,” Purdue said, “this is the first study to measure PFAS levels in the U.S. military population and to investigate associations with a cancer endpoint in this population, so that brings new evidence to the table.”

Kyle Steenland, PhD, a professor at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health, wrote in an accompanying article in the journalEnvironmental Health Perspectives that the research “provides a valuable contribution to the literature.” 

 Thousands of PFAS chemicals, also called “forever chemicals” are in countless industrial and household goods. Old supplies of aqueous film forming foam — a frothy white fire retardant known as AFF – contained PFOS. They were replaced by foam that has newer PFAS, which also have been found to be toxic. The Defense Department must stop using all foams with PFAS by October 2024. The foam was especially effective in fighting extremely hot fires, KFF Health News reported, such as aircraft or shipboard fires.