The alarming link between air pollution and cancer will be laid bare this week in new research, revealed exclusively to the Mail.

While air pollution’s link to lung conditions is well known, it’s also directly implicated in cancer, including breast and prostate, according to the review of 27 studies to be published in Anticancer Research on Friday. 

Long-term exposure to air pollution increases the chance of developing breast cancer by 45 per cent and prostate cancer by between 20 and 28 per cent, it states. 

It increases the risk of dying from breast cancer by 80 per cent and any type of cancer by 22 per cent compared with people who aren’t exposed to pollution.

This makes it ‘as significant a risk factor as smoking, obesity and alcohol’, according to Professor Kefah Mokbel, one of the country’s leading breast surgeons who conducted the analysis.

The 27 studies were identified from a database of hundreds of peer-reviewed publications investigating the role of pollution in human disease. Many of the studies included millions of patients who were followed up over decades.

While air pollution's link to lung conditions is well known, it's also directly implicated in cancer, including breast and prostate, according to the review of 27 studies

While air pollution’s link to lung conditions is well known, it’s also directly implicated in cancer, including breast and prostate, according to the review of 27 studies

Long-term exposure to air pollution increases the chance of developing breast cancer by 45 per cent and prostate cancer by between 20 and 28 per cent, the new research states

Long-term exposure to air pollution increases the chance of developing breast cancer by 45 per cent and prostate cancer by between 20 and 28 per cent, the new research states

A particular concern is particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5), tiny fragments of pollution (thinner than a human hair) which come from exhaust fumes, manufacturing, wood-burning stoves, cooking, smoking and vaping. 

They enter the lungs then the bloodstream, and circulate around the body.

‘PM2.5 won’t cause a cough, but there’s increasing evidence that when it slips into the body it can cause silent DNA damage that can lead to cancer,’ Professor Mokbel told Good Health.

‘It can cause inflammation and oxidative stress, where the balance between free radicals [damaging molecules linked to disease] and antioxidants [which mop up free radicals] becomes imbalanced, causing damage to cell DNA. Both are known risk factors for cancer.

‘PM2.5 also disrupts glands throughout the body that produce hormones. This is a particular concern for breast and prostate cancer which can be driven by hormones.

‘At a time when we are seeing increasing numbers of women with breast cancer, particularly young women, people need to be aware that air pollution is a major risk factor for the disease.

‘Long-term exposure to PM2.5 pollution not only raises the risk of breast cancer but also seems linked to a more aggressive disease and a poorer prognosis.’

For instance, research published in the journal Medicine in 2019, which combined the results of 14 studies involving more than a million breast cancer cases, found that for every 10 micrograms per metre cubed increase in PM2.5, the risk of dying from the disease increased by 17 per cent.

Meanwhile, U.S. research published last year in the journal Environmental Epidemiology, which analysed the records of 2.2 million men, found that men diagnosed with prostate cancer were more likely to have been exposed to PM2.5 in the ten years leading up to their diagnosis.

Other types of cancer that have been linked to PM2.5 exposure include stomach, lung, bladder, bowel, ovarian and womb.

A particular concern is particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5), tiny fragments of pollution (thinner than a human hair) which come from exhaust fumes, manufacturing, wood-burning stoves, cooking, smoking and vaping

A particular concern is particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5), tiny fragments of pollution (thinner than a human hair) which come from exhaust fumes, manufacturing, wood-burning stoves, cooking, smoking and vaping

Air pollution is 'as significant a risk factor as smoking, obesity and alcohol ', according to Professor Kefah Mokbel (pictured), one of the country's leading breast surgeons who conducted the analysis

Air pollution is ‘as significant a risk factor as smoking, obesity and alcohol ‘, according to Professor Kefah Mokbel (pictured), one of the country’s leading breast surgeons who conducted the analysis

Professor Mokbel recommends taking steps to protect yourself from the harmful effects of air pollution: ‘Avoid areas of high pollution where possible, but don’t rely on masks — they offer little protection against this type of pollution.

‘I’d also recommend eating a Mediterranean-style diet full of antioxidants to neutralise the effect of PM2.5.

‘This means eating fish; fruit such as pomegranates, strawberries, blueberries and tomatoes; vegetables such as kale and broccoli; and drinking green tea daily.’

He adds: ‘People also need to be aware that vaping is not a safe alternative to smoking, with increasing evidence suggesting that it delivers PM2.5 directly into the lungs.

‘It’s important that people are aware of the profound health risks of air pollution. More research is necessary, yet the undeniable cancer risks associated with it underscore the urgency for policymakers to intensify efforts in advocating for clean energy initiatives.’

A spokesperson for Cancer Research UK said: ‘Research to date has shown there’s only convincing evidence linking outdoor air pollution to lung cancer.

‘But it’s important to keep this in perspective. Smoking causes around nine times more lung cancer cases in the UK than air pollution.

‘Not smoking, keeping a healthy weight, staying safe in the sun and cutting down on alcohol are all proven ways to reduce the risk of cancer.’

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