Air pollution escalates non-lung cancer risk, study shows

Chronic exposure to fine particulate air pollutants and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) may increase the risk of different types of cancers in older people, experts have warned.

According to a study, which was led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and results were released at the beginning of this month, exposure to PM 2.5 and NO2 over a 10-year period increased the risk of developing colorectal and prostate cancers.

cars parked on parking lot under white clouds and blue sky during daytime

In addition, experts discovered that even low levels of air pollution exposure may make people particularly susceptible to developing these cancers, as well as breast and endometrial cancers.

Yaguang Wei, research fellow in the Department of Environmental Health: ‘Our findings uncover the biological plausibility of air pollution as a crucial risk factor in the development of specific cancers, bringing us one step closer to understanding the impact of air pollution on human health.’

To conduct their research, experts analysed data from national Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 or older. All subjects were cancer-free for at least the initial 10 years of which the study was carried out.

The results were shocking. For breast cancer, NO2 exposure was associated with an increased risk but association for PM 2.5 was inconclusive. In addition, experts noted that even communities with lower air pollution levels were not immune to a cancer risk.

As a result, the US Environmental Protection Agency proposed stricter standards for PM 2.5, but their proposal doesn’t reach far enough in regulating this pollutant.

Senior study author, Joel Schwartz, said: ‘Current NO2 standards are also woefully inadequate. Unless all of these standards become much, much stricter, air pollution will continue to result in thousands of unnecessary cases of multiple cancers each year.’

Image: Jacek Dylag

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