IMPROVING the worst environments in the US could prevent 39 in every 100,000 cancer deaths.
That’s according to the first study to address the impact of cumulative exposure to environmental hazards on cancer incidence in the US, which found strong links between poor environmental quality and increased rates of cancer.
Our environment can influence biological processes such as hormone function and gene expression, or cause DNA damage – all of which can alter the risk of developing certain cancers. For instance, lungcancer incidence can rise because of chronic exposure to certain pesticides, diesel exhaust and the radioactive gas radon. Social factors also take their toll – poverty is linked to liver cancer, for example, due to increased alcohol consumption.
“Decreasing environmental quality was most strongly linked to prostate and breast cancer”
Jyotsna Jagai at the University of Illinois and her colleagues studied these links by comparing 2000 to 2005 data from the Environmental Quality Index – a measure of cumulative environmental exposures – with cancer incidence across the US from 2006 to 2010.
The results showed increases in cancer incidence with decreasing environmental quality. The link was clearest with prostate and breast cancer.
The data compiled by Jagai’s team may help identify which communities are most vulnerable to high cancer rates. But this could be hampered by legislative proposals put forward in January that seek to rein in the federal collection of local area data.
Jagai and her team also warn that a bill introduced in February to terminate the Environmental Protection Agency, which provided the environmental data used in the study, will severely harm researchers’ ability to further investigate the factors that contribute to disease.