Teflon & Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) : Can Chemicals In Non- Stick Pans Increase Cancer Risk? 

Based on current research, probably not. However this doesn’t mean to say that there are no risks involved at all. Let’s look a little deeper into this… Teflon is a brand name that is synonymous with cookware and food preparation, you’ve most likely seen it on frying pans. Teflon has been used for several decades now because of its ability to minimise friction on the surfaces of cookware, which ultimately reduces the chances of foodstuffs sticking to it. One of the main manmade chemicals used in the formation of Teflon is Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), and the problem with this chemical is that it can leach from the non-stick pans and enter your blood stream via your food. Although the bulk of the PFOA is burned off during the manufacturing process, evidently some still remains because blood tests in the UK have shown there to be small amounts in just about everyone’s blood! This said, it is also possible that water mains can become contaminated with PFOA (goodness knows how) which will also contribute the raised level of PFOA in blood. Even more concerning is that the people who handle PFOA and manufacture the pans may have PFOA levels thousands of times higher than normal (not that normal levels of PFOA even exist…the stuff's not supposed to be in the body any way)!

Is this just more ‘Big C’ scare mongering?

In other words, is there any evidence to suggest that this chemical has resulted in cases of cancer? Well, sort of, some studies have concluded that PFOA was responsible for an increased risk of certain tumours of the liver, testicles, mammary glands and pancreas in animals. History tells us that the results found in animals are largely transferrable to humans, but this is by no means conclusive. HOWEVER, there are big differences in the way active human body’s handle PFOA compared to how relatively sedentary lab animals do, consequently any conclusions would be little more than assumptions. Studies in humans have exhibited an elevated risk of certain cancers, particularly bladder cancer and kidney cancer, and the most recent study to be published suggested an elevated risk of testicular cancer. Were the links to these cancers small and/ or down to chance, it seems not for bladder and kidney cancer, but the evidence is less conclusive for testicular cancer.

So is the evidence conclusive?

In short, the evidence surrounding PFOA and cancer is NOT conclusive. In order for something to be termed an actual carcinogen, the evidence has to be largely irrefutable and have the backing of certain expert agencies that work closely with cancer societies and organisations. Quite simply, this chemical doesn’t have this support, but this doesn’t mean to say it isn’t a carcinogen…the onus is therefore on the individual to decide whether they should or shouldn’t run the risk. In fact, the only reason it doesn’t have this support is because the agencies in question haven’t formally evaluated them…so what does this say, that they don’t consider them enough of a risk, or that we have all been consuming this stuff oblivious to any potential consequence. In the US for example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains an Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), a database that stores all information on human health effects based on exposure to various substances. To date though, the EPA is yet to classify PFOA based on its carcinogenicity, so the jury is well and truly undecided as to its guilt.

Consequently, there are no known risks associated with the use of Teflon coated pans. PFOA is indeed used in the manufacturing process of Teflon pans, but there is very little still present in the pan after heating and final manufacturing. The risk does appear to be small.

Currently, the EPA states:

"Consumer products made with fluoropolymers and fluorinated telomers, such as Teflon and other trademark products, are not PFOA. PFOA is used as a processing aid in the manufacture of fluoropolymers and can also be produced by the breakdown of some fluorinated telomers. The information that EPA has available does not indicate that the routine use of consumer products poses a concern. At present, the EPA does not recommend any steps for consumers to take to reduce exposures to PFOA."

And that statement there, is all we can really go by…for now.

 

Reference

American Cancer Society, (2014). Teflon and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA)

What are these substances? Where are they found? Retrieved 30th July, 2014, from http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/othercarcinogens/athome/teflon-and-perfluorooctanoic-acid--pfoa

About the Author

Job Role Qualified Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist Qualifications BSc (Hons) Sports Science | BSc (Hons) Dietetics Tom has always participated in sport both recreationally and competitively which led to an unquenchable thirst for information on anything health, nutrition and fitness. After leaving school Tom went on to play for a football academy during which time he studied Sport and Exercise Science. From here he went on to study a BSc (Hons) Sport Science at UEA followed by his second BSc (Hons) degree, this time at the University of Hertfordshire studying Dietetics. Tom has worked in the fitness, educational and clinical nutrition industry starting out at David Lloyd Health and Leisure Clubs. He then went on to work as a Dietitian (RD) in the NHS, during which time he conducted clinics for healthy eating, weight loss and weight gain, as well as specialised consultations on Diabetes, IBS and Coeliac disease to name a few. He has vast amounts of experience at devising diet plans and supplement regimens, as well as working in the community with schools and competitive athletes. As Head Nutritionist and Supplement expert at Discount Supplements Tom is here to provide current and evidence based health and nutrition information to help you reach your health and fitness goals!
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