News: Is there a link between air pollution and breast cancer?

When you live in a major city such as Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver, you begin to accept that certain things


When you live in a major city such as Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver, you begin to accept that certain things are unavoidable: noise, lineups, traffic and, of course, smog. In cities with millions of residents, commuters and cars, air quality isn’t exactly pristine. And now a study out of Montreal, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, is raising a new concern about air pollution: namely, its association with breast cancer in women.

It’s no surprise that air pollution has a negative impact on health. For those suffering from asthma, a particularly smoggy day can mean the difference between leaving the house and staying indoors. According to the City of Toronto website, air pollution is associated with an estimated 1,700 early deaths and 6,000 hospital visits every year. But could the air we breathe really put us at greater risk for breast cancer?

“We’ve been watching breast cancer rates go up for some time,” said study co-author and researcher at The Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, Dr. Mark Goldberg, in a news release. ‘Nobody really knows why, and only about one third of cases are attributable to known risk factors. Since no-one had studied the connection between air pollution and breast cancer using detailed air pollution maps, we decided to investigate it.’

Using data from previous studies on air pollution, the team of reasearchers from Montreal devised a set of “maps” to chart areas with the most traffic pollution, which they then studied against the addresses of women who’d been diagnosed with breast cancer. They found that in the areas with higher levels of pollution, more cases of breast cancer were present. “Women living in the areas with the highest levels of pollution were almost twice as likely to develop breast cancer as those living in the least polluted areas,” said Goldberg of the findings.

The study is not without its flaws, of course. For example, it does not account for other cancer risk factors that the women may have experienced in their day-to-day lives, their lifestyle habits or their family health history. And while the study suggests that a link is present between air pollution and cancer, it does not make any definitive claims. “At the moment, we are not in a position to say with assurance that air pollution causes breast cancer,” said researcher Dr. France Labrèche. “However, we can say that the possible link merits serious investigation.”

What do you think should be done to decrease air pollution caused by traffic? Or is it simply unavoidable?

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