New evidence links particulate matter air pollution to breast cancer

Image source: National Breast Cancer Foundation

The linkage between particulate matter and cancer is well established.  For example, in 2012, the World Health Organization identified diesel exhaust, one of the chief sources of particulate matter in many cities, as a carcinogen,  and a study last year associated exposure to fine particulate matter with “sharply higher mortality rates from cancers of the breast, the upper digestive tract and other organs.”

New research by University of Florida scientists strengthens the science behind the linkage.   Their study of over 250,000 women living in the U.S. found that those with very dense breast tissue, a well-established and strong breast cancer risk factor, are about 20 percent more likely to live in areas with high levels of particulate matter. 

According to Lusine Yaghjyan, the lead author of the study, this may be caused by toxins delivered by the particulate matter. “Chemical components in particulate matter could influence breast density by interfering with normal tissue growth, thus increasing the amount of fibroglandular tissue in the breast and, subsequently, breast density.”

Learn more about the study here:

Higher air pollution exposure linked to denser breast tissue, University of Florida

Link between air pollution and breast cancer discovered, International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics

New study links particulate matter air pollution to breast and other cancers, and to mortality increases

A new study links particulate matter air pollution to breast cancer and cancers of digestive organs, and finds that higher exposures to particulate matter greatly increase the risk of death from cancer.

An increase in long term exposure of fine particulate matter of just 10 microgram per cubic meter increased the risk from dying from any cancer. Increased risks for dying from some types of cancer were higher – sometimes much higher.

“That level of exposure caused a 42 percent rise in the risk of dying from cancer of the upper digestive tract and a 35 percent greater risk of death from cancer of accessory digestive organs—the liver, bile ducts, gallbladder and pancreas. For women, the risk of dying from breast cancer rose by 80 percent for every 10-microgram increase, and men were 36 percent more likely to die of lung cancer at that level of exposure.”

This study is important, because it shows linkages between particulate matter and cancers throughout the body – not just lung cancer.  

“The researchers said that the association between the fine particulate matter and cancer could be the result of damage to the body’s DNA-repair function, changes in the immune response or inflammation that triggers the growth of new blood vessels fueling the spread of tumors.”

Study authors said, “The implications for other similar cities around the world are that PM2.5 must be reduced to reduce the health burden. Air pollution remains a clear, modifiable public health concern.”

Particulate Matter is created by industrial sources such as diesel trucks, coal power plants, automobiles, and burning of biomass. In Hong Kong, the main cause of street level pollution is diesel exhaust, particularly trucks and buses.

For more information, see:

Fine-particle pollution linked to wider number of cancers, premature births, Washington Post


Long-term exposure to particulate air pollutants associated with numerous cancers, Environmental News Network

Abstract – Cancer Mortality Risks from Long-term Exposure to Ambient Fine Particle, Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention