Thyroid cancer is the fastest growing type of cancer in the United States. A recent study shows that flame retardants are associated with thyroid cancer.
Flame retardants, found in mattresses made after 2007 and other furniture with foam, are known endocrine disruptors.
This recent study out of Duke University evaluated the relationship between several different flame retardants and papillary thyroid cancer.
In this study, biomarkers of exposure to several polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), which are the chemicals in flame retardants, were taken through participants’ blood samples.
In addition, participants’ homes were visited and dust samples were taken, because there is a high correlation between dust exposure and personal exposure.
In 2007 a new law requiring all mattresses to be treated with a flame retardant was passed. Generally this involves chemicals sprayed onto the layers inside the mattress, or a barrier that is treated with chemicals – all close to the surface of the mattress. This treatment involves a chemical called polybrominated diphenyl ether or PBDE and it does not have to be mentioned on the label.
Here we go again with laws designed to keep the consumer in the dark.
This chemical is so toxic it has been banned in Canada and Europe. It accumulates in the body and has been associated with brain and reproductive damage, decreased sperm quality, thyroid problems and even cancer at high levels.
Worse, it is in many everyday products.
The study population was 78.6% female to reflect the primarily female risk factor for this type of cancer.
According to the researchers,
Our results suggest that higher levels of some FRs, particularly decabromodiphenyl ether (BDE-209) and tris(2-chloroethyl) phosphate (TCEP) in dust, are associated with increased odds of developing PTC.
Those with dust BDE-209 concentrations above the median were 2.29 times as likely to have PTC compared to those with low BDE-209.
Interestingly, the samples with the highest levels of BDE-209 in the dust showed less aggressive tumors. The samples with TCEP in the dust were more strongly associated with larger, more aggressive tumors.
For example, participants with house dust TCEP levels above the median were 4.14 times likely to have PTC with extra-thyroidal extension, but were not significantly more likely to have PTC without extra-thyroidal extension.
The researcher conclude that,
Taken together, our results suggest exposure to several FRs may be associated with the occurrence and severity of PTC.
It is not only in mattresses, but also in furniture and other household products. We are exposed to it everyday and if you have a mattress that has been treated with PBDE you are breathing it in all night.
Other flame-retardant chemicals currently approved for use in mattresses include:
• Boric acid – the least of the problem, but it is a respiratory irritant used to kill insects
• Antimony – a metal that is as toxic as mercury, if not more so
• Formaldehyde – implicated in cancer
This recent study brings the issue into the face of conventional medicine. We know that flame retardants cause cancer, but what is conventional medicine doing about it?
From an article at Medscape, a doctor has commented on what clinicians should take from this research and other studies on the potential harms of endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
With flame retardants, for some time there has been awareness of the value that they bring — protecting from flammability and meeting very important [safety] standards — but that has potentially come at a cost that these flame retardants might have on human health, on human cancers.
The challenge is…if we understand what the cons are of many of these chemicals, then we can start to work on developing alternatives that do not potentially have this effect.
As a clinician, it’s thinking about what role screening plays, but also taking a more detailed fastidious history and physical examination to try to better tease out what our patients do in all phases of their life, instead of potentially asking a historical set of questions that are no longer contemporary.
I do agree with this comment, however, we all know that most people have many endocrine disrupting chemicals in their homes. We all have mattressess, foam cushions and pillows. We all have furniture that is likely offgassing formaldehyde. We all drink from plastic bottles and eat food packaged in plastic – BPA free or not.
We are all exposed to many chemicals on a daily basis. So how to stay healthy?
We stay healthy by trying to control as many things in our environment as we can. We need to become educated on what these things are, how to decrease exposures and how to improve what we are exposed to in the outside environment and what we eat.
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