Living in areas with high pollution increases the risk of breast cancer

The atmospheric pollution Not only is it one of the factors that is influencing climate change, but it is directly related to numerous health problems. One of the studies presented at the ESMO 2023 Congress, which is held in Madrid between October 20 and 24, has found a relationship between a high concentration of polluting particles in the air and an increased chance of developing breast cancer in the women.

This study is the first to analyze the effects of exposure to air pollution at home and in the workplace on the risk of breast cancer and its results reveal that women who live and work in more polluted areas have a higher risk of suffering from this disease than those whose usual environment is less contaminated.

“Our data show a statistically significant association between long-term exposure to small particle pollutants, at home and at work, and the risk of breast cancer. This finding contrasts with previous research that focused solely on exposure to these particles at the women’s place of residence, and which showed insignificant or no effects on the risk of breast cancer,” said Professor Béatrice Fervers, director of the Environmental Department for Cancer Prevention at the Léon Béhard Cancer Center (France).

These small particles [PM2.5] “They can enter the interior of the lungs and reach the blood supply, from where they reach the breast and other tissues.”

Researchers compared the home and workplace pollution exposure of 2,419 women with breast cancer with that of 2,984 women without the disease between 1990 and 2011. The results show that the risk of breast cancer increases by 28% when the exposure to small particles (PM2.5) in suspension in the air increases by 10 µg/m3 – which is approximately the same difference that exists in the concentration of PM2.5 particles in rural environments compared to urban areas in Europe.

Small increases in cancer risk were also documented for women exposed to high levels of air pollution from larger particles (PM10 and nitrogen dioxide). The next goal for Fervers and her collaborators is to analyze the effects of pollution exposure during commuting to obtain a complete picture of the impact of pollution on breast cancer risk.

Measures to reduce pollution and prevent cancer

Professor Charles Swanton, from the Francis Crick Institute in London, UK, whose research into how PM2.5 particles can trigger lung cancer in non-smokers was presented at the ESMO 2022 Congress, has highlighted the importance of the new findings in breast cancer.

“These small particles can enter the interior of the lungs and reach the blood supply, from where they reach the breast and other tissues. There is already evidence that air pollutants can alter the architecture of the breast. “It will be important to study whether pollution allows breast tissue cells with pre-existing mutations to promote tumor growth, probably through inflammatory processes, similar to our observations in non-smokers with lung cancer,” he stated.

“It is very worrying that small air polluting particles and microplastic particles of similar size are entering the environment when we do not yet understand their potential to facilitate the development of cancer. There is an urgent need to carry out laboratory studies to investigate the effects of these small contaminating particles on the latency, grade, aggressiveness and progression of breast tumors,” he added.

“There is now strong epidemiological and biological evidence of the link between exposure to PM2.5 particles and cancer, and we have good clinical and economic reasons to reduce pollution to prevent cancer,” said Professor Jean-Yves Blay, director of Public Policies of ESMO.

Following a proposal by the European Commission in October 2022 to reduce the limit of PM2.5 particles in the air from the current threshold of 25 µg/m3 to 10 µg/m3 by 2030, ESMO has made an urgent call for the PM2.5 limit is further reduced, specifically to 5 µg/m3, in accordance with the World Health Organization guidelines on air quality.

“Reducing PM2.5 particles present in the air to the level recommended by the WHO is crucial, due to its association with various types of tumors, including breast tumors,” added Blay. “We have a responsibility to drive that change, not just for the people of Europe, but around the world, where there are large variations in pollution.” The lower limit is the one adopted by the Committee for the Environment, Food Safety and Public Health of the European Parliament in 2023.

More recently, in September 2023, the European Parliament adopted in a plenary session its report on the current review of the European Air Quality Directives, which includes ESMO recommendations to establish a annual limit of PM2.5 at 5µg/m³. This adoption lays the foundations for negotiations between co-legislators – the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council of Europe – to reach a final agreement on the directive.

“By supporting our petition with solid scientific evidence, we are offering a new dimension to public health policy. The work is not finished, and the change is not going to happen overnight, but we are going in the right direction”, concluded the director of Public Policies of ESMO.

Fuente: ESMO Congress 2023


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