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Could your furniture be making you sick?

Study shows furniture could be increasing your risk of thyroid cancer

HOUSTON – A recent study found in the last 30 years, cases of thyroid cancer have tripled. Researchers believe the culprit may be lurking in places you would least expect it. 

“They told me, you know, it was cancer,” said thyroid cancer survivor Richard Belton.

Julie Ann Sosa, MD, a Professor of Surgery and Medicine, Chief of Endocrine Surgery; Leader, Endocrine Neoplasia Diseases Group; Co-Leader, Solid Tumor Therapeutics Program, Duke Cancer Institute, at Duke University Medical Center explained, “There’s a virtual epidemic of thyroid cancer that is being seen in the United States.”

Researchers at Duke University wanted to know what was behind the spike, so they studied possible causes.

“The one that sort of fascinated us was potential exposures in the environment,” Sosa said.

They believe the culprit may be lurking right inside your home, in the form of flame retardant chemicals.

“These chemicals, the flame retardants, are located in many different things in the home. In your sofa, in drapes, curtains,” Sosa said.

She and her team wondered if these chemicals worked as endocrine disrupters, possibly altering the way the thyroid works. But first, they had to measure these exposures. Researchers used a special vacuum in patients’ homes, collecting dust to be tested in the lab. The results confirmed their suspicions. 

“The levels were significantly higher in the patients with papillary thyroid cancer,” Sosa said.

The study found the higher the level of exposure the patient had to flame retardants, the more aggressive the cancer.

Richard took part in the Duke study and hopes that one day it will lead to a cure.

“I just hope to find out what causes it so it helps somebody else, you know, down the road,” Richard said. 

It's a road he and his wife will continue to walk together.

Sosa said the hope is that research like this will someday spark industry-wide change and companies will be compelled to use less harmful chemicals.

In the meantime, if you’d like to participate in the university’s study, submit a sample of polyurethane foam (PUF) from furniture, child car seats, or any other product containing PUF, using the submission form on the Duke University website.

Duke said their laboratory will analyze the sample for the presence or absence of seven common flame retardant chemicals. Approximately six to eight weeks later, they will mail a report detailing the findings, along with a fact sheet about the seven common flame retardants. They can also answer any questions you might have after receiving the results.