PFAS (forever chemicals) are a group of over 9,000 different chemicals.

They break down very slowly and can accumulate in the environment and the human body.

PFAS are used to make products waterproof, greaseproof, stain-resistant and non-stick.

Some PFAS are Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) that increase oestrogen levels or mimic its action.

Studies have shown that specific PFAS may increase breast cancer risk.

Our tips to reduce your risk

Use cast-iron or stainless-steel pans. Avoid non-stick cookware.

Avoid waterproof or stain-resistant clothes and furniture.

Avoid takeaway boxes and single-use cups. Use reusable containers.

Look for PFAS-free dental floss.

Avoid waterproof cosmetics.

What are PFAS? 

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a group of over 9,000 different chemicals. They are also known as “forever chemicals” because they break down very slowly and can accumulate in the environment.

Where are PFAS used? 

PFAS can be used in food packaging to make them resistant to water, oil and fat. They are also used in waterproof clothing, raincoats, and in stain-resistant furniture. PFAS can be found in some cosmetics and beauty products, such as waterproof mascara and dental floss. Additionally, non-stick cookware can be coated with PFAS. These chemicals can also be used in electronic equipment and some fire-fighting foams.

How are we exposed to PFAS?

We are exposed to PFAS mainly through contaminated food and water. High levels of PFAS have been measured in meat, fish, dairy products, eggs and vegetables grown in contaminated soil. PFAS may also enter our food from packaging and non-stick cookware. Some cosmetics and PFAS-treated clothing may also allow PFAS to be absorbed through our skin.

Is exposure to PFAS harmful to human health?

PFAS have been found in human blood, breast milk, liver and placenta. Once in our bodies, most PFAS do not break down and may accumulate for a long time, from a few days to years.

PFAS have been linked to several health issues including thyroid disease, reduced ability to fight infections, elevated cholesterol, fertility problems and cancer.

Are PFAS Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs)?

Some PFAS are known, or suspected, Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs). PFAS may act as EDCs by increasing oestrogen levels or by mimicking its action. High levels of oestrogen are known to increase breast cancer risk.

Is there a link between PFAS and breast cancer? 

A large study that has looked at all the available evidence on PFAS to date, has found that exposure to some PFAS (PFOA and PFHxS) may increase breast cancer risk, whilst the chemical PFNA may reduce risk. Another forever chemical, PFOS, currently has no link with breast cancer. Overall, the evidence suggests that exposure to certain PFAS may increase breast cancer risk.

However, it is important to note most PFAS have never been tested, and their effects on human health are unknown.

How are PFAS regulated in the UK? 

Some older PFAS are banned globally. However, their “forever chemical” properties mean they are still in the environment. Despite some bans, most PFAS remain unregulated; this may be because testing and regulating thousands of chemicals is extremely difficult. The EU has proposed restricting PFAS as a group to overcome this issue. The UK strategy on PFAS is expected to be published in 2025.

Breast Cancer UK is calling for a ban on all non-essential use of PFAS. Find out how you can help us ban EDCs from everyday products here.

Please see our PFAS and breast cancer science review for more details and references.

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