Breast cancer risk and serum levels of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances: a case-control study nested in the California Teachers Study

Environ Health. 2018 Nov 27;17(1):83. doi: 10.1186/s12940-018-0426-6.


Background: Per- and poly- fluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) are a large family of synthetic chemicals, some of which are mammary toxicants and endocrine disruptors. Their potential as breast carcinogens is unclear. Our objective was to evaluate the risk of breast cancer associated with serum PFAS concentrations in a nested case-control study within the California Teachers Study.

Methods: Participants were 902 women with invasive breast cancer (cases) and 858 with no such diagnosis (controls) who provided 10 mL of blood and were interviewed during 2011-2015, an average of 35 months after case diagnosis. PFASs were measured using automated online SPE-HPLC-MS/MS methods. Statistical analyses were restricted to six PFASs with detection frequencies ≥ 95%: PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid), PFNA (Perfluorononanoic acid), PFUnDA (Perfluoroundecanoic acid), PFHxS (Perfluorohexane sulfonic acid), PFOS (Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid), and MeFOSAA (2-(N-Methyl-perfluorooctane sulfonamido) acetic acid. Unconditional logistic regression was used to calculate adjusted odds ratios (ORs), estimating the breast cancer risk associated with each PFAS.

Results: For all cases of invasive breast cancer, none of the adjusted ORs were statistically significant but marginally significant ORs < 1.0 were observed for PFUnDA and PFHxS (p-trend = 0.08). Adjusted ORs < 1.0 for PFUnDA and PFHxS were statistically significant (p ≤ 0.05) among the 107 cases with hormone-negative tumors but not the 743 with hormone-positive tumors.

Conclusion: Overall, these findings do not provide evidence that serum PFAS levels measured after diagnosis are related to breast cancer risk. The few inverse associations found may be due to chance or may be artifacts of study design. Future studies should incorporate information about genetic susceptibility, endogenous estrogen levels, and measurements of PFASs prior to diagnosis and treatment.

Keywords: Breast cancer risk; Case control; PFAS; Perfluoroalkyl substances; Polyfluoroalkyl substances.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alkanesulfonic Acids / blood*
  • Breast Neoplasms / blood*
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • California / epidemiology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Environmental Pollutants / blood*
  • Fatty Acids / blood*
  • Female
  • Fluorocarbons / blood*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Risk
  • Young Adult


  • Alkanesulfonic Acids
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Fatty Acids
  • Fluorocarbons