Blog: Decoding the Research

Air pollution contributes to lung cancer risk

Published: July 30th, 2013

Large study shows exposure to air pollution particles is associated with increased lung cancer incidence in Europe

Results of the ESCAPE study show a significant association between lung cancer and exposure to particulate matter near where participants live. While there was no statistically significant link between lung cancer and traffic intensity on the nearest street, the authors found “there was no threshold below which there was no risk; the results showed a picture that ‘the more the worse, the less the better.’”  The study was published this month in Lancet.

Previous studies have addressed the connection between air pollution and lung cancer, but this study provides solid evidence for the link, overcoming a number of caveats to previous studies. The ESCAPE study was very large, following over 300,000 people across Europe; had a high follow-up rate; and was able to take into account participants’ smoking habits.

Smoking remains the largest environmental factor contributing to lung cancer risk, but air pollution should not be overlooked. The WHO estimated that while 71% of lung cancer deaths world-wide are attributable to smoking, air pollution still contributed to approximately 8% of cases. That is 1.2 million deaths world-wide.

The authors also found that significant risk remained at levels below current air pollution standards (many of which are still not being met in cities across the US). The good news is that this is an issue we can improve by supporting clean air initiatives in our communities. For this New Yorker, my apartment now boasts an air purifier.

Learn more about air pollution and ways we are keeping our air clean here: