Is your non-stick frypan a cancer risk?

Those of you beyond a certain age might remember the wonder of non-stick frypans when they first hit the retail scene.

The wonder of being able to easily slide eggs off the pan was a revelation, thanks to a seemingly magical substance known as Teflon.

Developed commercially by Dupont, Teflon was being used by an engineer to prevent tangles in his fishing gear when his wife suggested the chemical might work on cooking pans. The coating process proved successful and led to a patent grant in 1954.

Over the next few decades, non-stick frying pans took off, but at some point, health concerns about Teflon began to emerge.

The concerns were not about Teflon itself but the process of making it. For many years Teflon production incorporated the use of PFAS – perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances – and it is those compounds that appeared to have potentially harmful properties.

What are PFAs?

PFAS were first introduced in the 1930s and were soon widely used in manufacturing many products, including packaging, construction materials and cosmetics, all of which benefitted from its liquid- and fire-resistant properties.

But by the late 20th century, scientists and government agencies began to realise  the properties of PFAS meant that they did not break down easily, and their presence began to be detected on land, in groundwater and even in humans, long after their use in manufacturing.

This led to them being dubbed ‘forever’ chemicals.

If these ‘forever’ substances were truly inert, that might not have been a problem, but over time a link between PFAS and the onset of cancer was established, leading to a ban on their use in the manufacture of many products.

Studies into the link continue, with the latest conducted by researchers from the Keck School of Medicine of USC, and published in JHEP Reports, reinforcing this association.

The researchers were given access to the Multiethnic Cohort Study database, a survey of cancer development in more than 200,000 people.

From that cohort they selected 100 survey participants – 50 of them with liver cancer and 50 without – whose available blood and tissue samples were sufficient for analysis.

Looking for traces of ‘forever’ chemicals present in the body before the group with cancer became ill, they found several types of PFAS among participants, with PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonic acids) appearing most prominently among those in the group with liver cancer.

The study found that those who fell in the top 10 per cent of PFOS exposure were over four times more likely to develop hepatocellular carcinoma (the most common liver cancer) when compared to those with the least exposure.

“This builds on the existing research, but takes it one step further,” said Jesse Goodrich, the study’s lead author.

Fortunately, governments around the world have already paid attention to the existing research, and the use of PFAS has been slashed over the past two decades.

In 2006, America’s Environmental Protection Agency ordered eight multinational manufacturing corporations to phase out the use of such chemicals.

In Australia, the government has an entire website devoted to the dangers of PFAS, with a focus on the historical use of PFAS in fire-fighting foams.

These foams were linked to a cancer cluster at a Country Fire Authority training facility in Fiskville in Victoria, leading to its permanent closure in 2015.

As for frying pans, a worldwide phaseout of the use of PFOS in their manufacture was implemented in 2013. If you have a non-stick pan that’s a decade or more old, now might be a good time to replace it.

Do you use non-stick frying pans? How old are the ones in your kitchen? Why not share your experience and thoughts in the comments section below?

Also read: Evidence shows blood donations can reduce ‘forever chemicals’

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.


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