The link between air pollution and lung cancer has long been clear. The only question was: how?
In the classic look it is simple. Polluted air is full of small dust particles that affect the DNA of certain cells in our body and cause mutations in the genetic code. If a cell accumulates too many mutations, it develops into a cancer cell. But writes De Morgen, that theory is probably correct.
New research presented last weekend in Paris may find the right explanation. And this, according to researcher Charles Swanton, turns our knowledge of cancer growth upside down. Mutations alone are not the only culprit.
“Everyone develops these mutations in their bodies, it’s part of the aging process. But our research shows that you still need a second step in the process: a inflammatory response which ensures that the mutated cells are activated, as it were.”
And that’s exactly what happens when we inhale particles. In the jargon: PM2.5, which means particles no larger than 2.5 microns, about one-thirtieth the thickness of a hair. These particles can be found everywhere, mainly as a result of all types of combustion engines: in industry, but also in traffic. When people inhale them, they create small inflammations that awaken the mutated cells in our body. Just as a flame is needed to ignite gas.
The fact that particulate matter mainly causes the inflammation and not the mutation is not necessarily positive news. This means that chronic exposure to particulate matter causes otherwise harmless mutations to develop in cancer cells.
The finding may also explain lung cancer in non-smokers.
“The mechanism we identified could ultimately help us find better ways to prevent and treat lung cancer in people who have never smoked. If we can stop the cells from growing in response to air pollution, we can reduce the risk of cancer lungs.”Bronch (nose): De Morgen News Cancerresearch