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Study links poor environmental quality to elevated cancer rates

08 May 2017

A recent study has linked poor environmental quality to elevated cancer rates, suggesting an association between cumulative exposure to harmful environmental factors and cancer incidence across the US, with prostate and breast cancer especially demonstrating strong links with poor environmental quality.

According to commentators, the findings might help cut the burden of cancer by allowing officials to identify vulnerable communities that needed attention.

Jyotsna S Jagai of the University of Illinois, Chicago and her colleagues studied the effects of overall environmental quality across multiple domains, including air, water and land quality; sociodemographic environment; and built environment. They linked these to the Environmental Quality Index, a county-level measure of cumulative environmental exposures, with cancer incidence rates from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and end results programme of state cancer profiles.

The average annual county-level age-adjusted incidence rate for all types of cancer was 451 cases per 100,000 people, while counties that had poor environmental quality had higher incidence of cancer cases, on average 39 more cases per 100,000 people as against counties with high environmental quality over the study period.

Higher rates were seen in both males and females, with prostate and breast cancer demonstrating the strongest positive associations with poor environmental quality.

''Our study is the first we are aware of to address the impact of cumulative environmental exposures on cancer incidence'', The Daily Mail quoted Jagai as saying.

''This work helps support the idea that all of the exposures we experience affect our health, and underscores the potential for social and environmental improvements to positively impact health outcomes.''

Commentators point out that lung cancer had already been linked to diesel exhausts and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, produced by cars.

The reasons behind this increase were still being  examined, but the study states: ''Environmental exposures can alter or interfere with a variety of biological processes, including hormone production and function, inflammation, DNA damage and gene suppression or over-expression.''

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