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Health: Flame retardants in furniture are often the cause of thyroid cancer


Experts are studying the effects of flame retardants
There are many reasons for the development of cancer. Researchers have now found that increased exposure to chemicals to reduce the flammability of furniture, carpets, electronics and other household items increases the likelihood of thyroid cancer significantly.

The researchers at Duke University found in their investigation that there is a significant association between higher concentrations of certain flame retardants in house dust and the development of thyroid cancer. The doctors published a press release with the results of their study.

Incidence of papillary thyroid carcinoma increases sharply
The incidence of papillary thyroid cancer has increased an average of seven percent per year in the United States over the past two decades, says author Dr. Julie Ann Sosa. At the same time, exposure to flame retardant chemicals has increased.

Experts are studying effects on thyroid regulation
These chemicals affect the thyroid function, according to the researchers. "We know that some flame retardants share a chemical structure similar to that of thyroid hormones," say the doctors. In their study, the scientists were particularly interested in the effects on thyroid regulation and clinically significant thyroid disorders.

Researchers examine subjects and the dust in their homes
"Our study was designed to explore whether there is an association between these chemicals and thyroid cancer," the authors say. To do this, they examined 140 patients with and without papillary thyroid carcinoma. The subjects had lived in their homes for an average of eleven years. The doctors wanted to determine the long-term exposure in living rooms by analyzing house dust samples.

Doctors are looking for biomarkers for polybrominated diphenyl ethers in the blood
The researchers collected household dust to measure flame retardants in the home environment. They also analyzed participants' blood and focused in particular on certain biomarkers for a class of flame retardants called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE). These flammability-inhibiting chemicals were used extensively until it became clear in the 2000s that toxicity affects human health, the authors add.

80 percent of the exposure to flame retardants comes from house dust
Despite declining use, these chemicals are still found in house dust samples, as many people still have products with chemicals in their homes, the researchers say. These include, for example, televisions and sofas. The scientists estimate that around 80 percent of the population's exposure to flame retardants comes from indoor dust.

These chemicals are particularly dangerous
The researchers identified several important associations between long-term exposure to flame retardant chemicals and the risk of thyroid cancer, particularly in relation to increased tumor aggressiveness. Exposure to two special chemicals, decabromodiphenyl ether (BDE-209) and tris (2-chloroethyl) phosphate (TCEP), in house dust was most associated with higher risks, the authors explain.

What exactly do the chemicals do?
Study participants who had elevated levels of BDE-209 in their house dust showed a 2.3 times higher risk of developing thyroid cancer compared to subjects who were only exposed to very low concentrations, the researchers report. TCEP in dust was also more associated with larger, more aggressive tumors, the experts say. In contrast, patients with the highest level of BDE-209 in dust usually developed less aggressive tumors.

Exposure to flame retardants appears to lead to a sharp increase in thyroid cancer
The results suggest that exposure to multiple flame retardants can be associated with the diagnosis and severity of papillary thyroid cancer, the researchers explain. This connection could possibly explain why such a sharp increase in the disease has been observed in recent years, says author Dr. Heather M. Stapleton. (as)

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