Scientists have discovered for the first time a direct link between the presence of toxic “forever chemicals” in the blood of Air Force servicemen and testicular cancer, a finding that triggers a reevaluation of military materials. Researchers, including those from the National Cancer Institute in the United States, analyzed deposited blood samples from Air Force servicemen to evaluate associations between serum concentrations of “forever chemicals” and testicular germ cell tumors (TGCT).
Previous research has shown that firefighters are diagnosed with testicular cancer at a higher rate than individuals in most other occupations, pointing to the presence of PFAS in the foam. However, the link between this cancer and the chemical among military personnel has not been established until now. Earlier research has also suggested that hormone-disrupting compounds in firefighting foam may play a role in the development of testicular cancer.
PFAS are commonly found in stain-resistant products such as rain gear, non-stick cookware, and firefighting foam; they are also known as “forever chemicals” because they do not degrade in the environment. Airmen who were firefighters had elevated levels of PFAS, according to a recent study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. “This study is the first to our knowledge to investigate serum PFAS concentrations among US Air Force servicemen and their associations with TGCT,” scientists wrote in the study.
In addition, researchers discovered that servicemen with testicular cancer had higher serum levels of lifelong compounds than those without cancer. They warn that the findings warrant additional research into PFAS blood levels in other populations and military branches.
Studying Military Blood Samples: Insights from 717 Cases Over Time
In the study, scientists analyzed data from the Department of Defense Serum Repository regarding the blood of Air Force service members. They analyzed a total of 530 cases and 530 controls, with a second sample of 187 case–control pairs collected an average of four years after the initial sample. Particularly elevated concentrations of certain PFAS were found in military personnel employed as firefighters, according to scientists. Employment in fire protection was the strongest service-related predictor of elevated serum PFAS concentrations, according to the study.
“Our findings are consistent with those of a cross-sectional study of Australian firefighters employed at commercial airports,” the researchers noted. Scientists call for additional research into the serum PFAS concentrations of military personnel in order to confirm the most recent findings with sera collected more recently.