Air Pollution Linked to Lung Cancer

English: Air Pollution in Victoria Harbour in ...
English: Air Pollution in Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Background: Tobacco, radon, and asbestos exposure remain the leading causes of lung cancer. However, air pollution is also associated with lung cancer (and heart disease), at least according to two recent studies. Both show that the more the pollution, the higher the probability of disease. One study examined lung cancer cases across Europe, while the other looked at hospitalization for heart failure in several countries, including the USA.

The authors accounted for whether people smoked, what they ate, and their occupations. Many of the studies directly measured air pollution. Traffic intensity (vehicles per day) was measured on the nearest street, as was total traffic load (vehicle-km driven per day) on all major roads within 100 meters.

Results: A person’s risk of developing lung cancer rose 18% for every extra 5 micrograms of soot per cubic meter of air.

My take: Clear risk factors for lung cancer include tobacco exposure. Radon and asbestos exposure also raise risk. It is becoming clearer that air pollution can increase risk, too. While smokers may be more likely to live in more polluted areas, the large scope of the studies showed that even so, pollution can raise a non-smoker’s risk of lung cancer. Another study from this week showed that individuals with heart failure (a chronic condition in which the heart loses its ability to pump blood effectively), polluted air can increase the probability of a person (who has heart failure) needing to go to the hospital with an exacerbation of their disease. While we knew air pollution is a risk factor for heart attacks, it appears that it can also make heart failure worse.

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Harvard AB Yale MD UPenn Radiation Oncology Radiation Oncologist, Seattle area

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