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Polluted environment linked to higher cancer rates


Study is first to measure the effect of cumulative environmental exposures on cancer rates. Andrew Masterson reports.


An aerial view of an industrial area.
Dirk Meister / Getty

Poor quality across a wide range of physical measurements – notably air, water, built environment, population density and soil – collectively contribute to cancer incidence, new research has revealed.

An analysis published in the journal Cancer has found that in US municipalities with a range of pollution and environmental degradation issues the total number of cancer cases was significantly above the national average.

The higher numbers were recorded across all types of cancer, but especially so in breast and prostate cases.

To reach their findings, the research team led by Jyotsna Jagai of the University of Illinois mined and cross-referenced two US federal databases: the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program State Cancer Profiles; and the Environmental Quality Index.

The quality index comprises county-level data measuring a range of environmental factors. Jagai’s team compared these results with the geographically arrayed data contained in the cancer profiles.

The team determined that the average cancer rate across all US counties was 451 cases per 100,000 people. In counties determined to have multiple environmental problems, the average was 490.

Jagai concludes that poor pollution outcomes in a number of domains exert a strong influence on disease numbers.

“Our study is the first we are aware of to address the impact of cumulative environmental exposures on cancer incidence,” she says. “This work helps support the idea that all of the exposures we experience affect our health.”

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Andrew Masterson is news editor of Cosmos.
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