Thyroid cancer rates are currently increasing the most rapidly of all kinds of cancer. It is believed that environmental factors such as the increased addition of flame retardant chemicals in common products are contributing to this problem. While these additions decrease the risk of deadly fires engulfing the home, the trade-off seems to be an increased risk of cancer for those living there.
Flame retardant chemicals floating around in household dust are endocrine disruptors
The current data was presented in Orlando, Florida at the 2017 Endocrine Society meeting (ENDO 2017), their 99th. The study was conducted by measuring the level of flame retardant in the house dust of the participants compared with their thyroid cancer rates.
In all, dust samples were collected from 140 participants’ homes. Half of the subjects had cancer, and half did not. The groups were matched in terms of key characteristics like race/ethnicity, age, sex, household income, body mass index and educational level. All participants had lived in their homes for around 11 years so that longer-term exposure could be assessed.
It was found that higher exposure to certain flame retardants relates directly with papillary thyroid cancer in both diagnosis and severity. This could explain the observed increase in thyroid cancer rates reported in recent years.
Previous and current studies have shown that some classes of flame retardants act as endocrine disruptors, interfering with thyroid functioning and homeostasis. This is in part because they have a similar chemical structure as thyroid hormones.
Flame retardant in household items shown to increase thyroid cancer risk up to 14 fold
Participants’ blood samples were collected in order to look at key biomarkers related to flame retardants in the PBDE class (polybrominated diphenyl ethers). Those with somewhat high levels of TCEP in their household dust were found to be over four times more likely to have large, aggressive thyroid tumors.
However, those with the highest levels of BDE-209 dust were as much as 14 times more likely to have thyroid cancer. This was true even in those participants who did not have the gene mutation BRAF V600E, which is linked with papillary thyroid cancer that spreads aggressively.
Women at much higher risk for thyroid cancer
Two types of flame retardants had the highest association with thyroid cancer; these were tris(2-chloroethyl) phosphate (TCEP), an organophosphate flame retardant and decabromodiphenyl ether (BDE-209), the most heavily-used PBDE flame retardant. High levels of BDE-209 levels in household dust was linked with double the chance for thyroid cancer.
Papillary thyroid cancer is known to affect women much more than men, and the study results reflected this. Nearly 80 percent of the study participants were females with an average age of 48 years old.
Bottom line: protect yourself by reducing your exposure to endocrine disruptors. While protecting your home against fire hazards is essential, bear in mind that items treated with flame retardants – especially BDE-209 – could elevate your risk of cancer.