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New study reveals unanticipated risk factor associated with breast cancer: 'It is very concerning'

"We have a responsibility to push for this change."

"We have a responsibility to push for this change."

Photo Credit: iStock

A new study published in the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) has found an unexpected risk factor associated with breast cancer, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes is "one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in women."  

What happened?

As reported by News Medical, scientists found that women's risk for breast cancer jumped by 28% when they lived and worked in areas that had increased levels of fine particle (PM2.5) air pollution by just 10 micrograms per cubic meter. 

"It is very concerning that small pollutant particles in the air and indeed microplastic particles of similar size are getting into the environment when we don't yet understand their potential to promote cancer," Charles Swanton, a professor at London's Francis Crick Institute, said in a press release from ESMO, adding that there is "an urgent need" for further research. 

Professor Béatrice Fervers, who's the Head of the Prevention Cancer Environment Department at France's Léon Bérard Comprehensive Cancer Centre, noted that this was the first study to take into account exposure to fine particles both at home and at work.  

Previous research, which considered only air pollution levels at home, "showed small or no effects on breast cancer risk," according to Fervers. 

Why is this concerning?

We're still discovering the full impact air pollution is having on our health — even as the World Health Organization has warned that 99% of people worldwide are breathing unhealthy air. 

Outdoor air pollution alone led to an estimated 4.2 million premature deaths in 2019, while household pollution contributed to about another 2.8 million

The cost is being felt in our pocketbooks as well. According to the CDC, breast cancer is the most expensive form of cancer to treat.

What is being done about fine particle air pollution? 

The European Parliament's Environment, Public Health, and Food Safety Committee approved a proposal in June 2023 that reduced the acceptable concentration for PM2.5 particles in relation to air quality standards, and a review of the quality standards is reportedly ongoing. 

"We have a responsibility to push for this change, not only for people in Europe but worldwide where there are big variations in the pollution landscape," Professor Jean-Yves Blay, the ESMO Director of Public Policy, said in the organization's press release. 

On an individual level, supporting policymakers who advocate for pollution-reducing initiatives is one way to help enact change. 
Other actions to make a positive impact on our air quality include investing in clean energy by adding solar panels, taking public transportation, or swapping a gas-powered car for an electric vehicle.

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