A recent study conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has found that living in an area with high levels of air pollution can increase the risk of developing breast cancer. The research analyzed data from the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, which included over 500,000 participants from various states in the US.
The study focused on particulate matter, which is a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. Sources of particulate matter include combustion processes, motor vehicle exhaust, industrial emissions, and wood smoke. The researchers specifically evaluated particulate matter that is 2.5 microns in diameter or smaller (PM2.5), as these particles can be deeply inhaled into the lungs.
The findings showed that women who lived in areas with higher levels of PM2.5 before enrolling in the study had a higher incidence of breast cancer. In fact, there was an 8% increase in breast cancer incidence associated with exposure to higher PM2.5 levels. Importantly, the study also found that the association between air pollution and breast cancer was stronger for estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) tumors, indicating a potential biological pathway of endocrine disruption.
One of the strengths of this research is that it took into account historic air pollution levels. Breast cancer can take many years to develop, and previous exposure to higher levels of air pollution may be particularly relevant to cancer development.
These findings contribute to a growing body of literature suggesting a link between air pollution and breast cancer. As air pollution is a widespread and pervasive exposure, the implications of these findings are significant.
Further studies are needed to explore how regional differences in air pollution may impact breast cancer incidence. Understanding the specific mechanisms through which air pollution affects breast cancer development could lead to targeted interventions and policies aimed at reducing exposure and ultimately decreasing breast cancer risk.
Source: National Institutes of Health