Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. The lifetime risk of developing pancreatic cancer is 1 in 64. Nevertheless, veterans who spent more than a month on contaminated military bases have a considerably higher risk, as they were exposed to harmful substances that have a connection with the disease. Timely diagnosis is crucial when it comes to pancreatic cancer, as even when detected in the early phase, the five-year survival rate is just 42%. If cancer spreads to distant organs in the body, it drops to a grim 3%. Consequently, veterans who were stationed at military bases where PFAS lurked should look out for the signs of pancreatic cancer to be on the safe side, which include:
- abdominal pain radiating to the back
- yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes
- light-colored stools and dark urine
- unintentional weight loss
- new diagnosis of diabetes
- itchy skin and blood clots
- fatigue and loss of appetite
- preexistent diabetes that is difficult to control
- loss of appetite
Out of the 9,000 chemicals known as PFAS, it was found that PFOA can lead to the development and progression of pancreatic cancer in people who have it in their bloodstream. Furthermore, PFOA exposure causes oxidative stress in the pancreas, which can eventually trigger cancer. When this dangerous chemical is the culprit behind pancreatic cancer, the mutation of the KRAS gene occurs, which has been identified as a key mutational event in pancreatic cancer initiation. Continued exposure to PFOA drives the progression stage, in which full malignancy is acquired.
It is important to note that PFOA exposure resulted in a high incidence of pancreatic acinar cell tumors in rats through an undefined mechanism. While the chemical is not a direct mutagen, it was found to cause oxidative stress and inflammation in both animal and human studies, which precede cancer. Therefore, PFOA itself does not function as an initiator of carcinogenesis, but it facilitates the development of pancreatic cancer. On most bases nationwide, the main source of PFAS is the use of AFFF by military firefighters, which contains between 50% and 98% of these chemicals.
Finally, chlorinated solvents, which were present on numerous military bases during the last century, were also found to contribute to pancreatic cancer development. However, they do not have a definitive causal relation with the disease. The following solvents might contribute to pancreatic cancer in exposed veterans:
- polychlorinated biphenyls
- methylene chloride
- vinyl chloride