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Air pollution can shorten lives of patients with lung cancer

Reducing exposure to air pollutants could improve lung cancer survival rates, research suggests. 

Air pollution has been linked to a higher incidence of lung cancer and death, but little is known about its potential impact on an individual’s chances of survival after diagnosis. 

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To clarify this, researchers from the University of California in the United States studied 352,000 people newly diagnosed with lung cancer between 1988 and 2009, tracking their health outcomes up until the end of 2011. 

Using data from the US Environmental Protection Agency air quality monitoring stations, participants’ exposure to nitrogen dioxide and ozone was calculated, along with airborne particulate matter of less than 10 um, and less than 2.5 um, in diameter. This information was then mapped to area of residence. 

Almost half of the study participants lived more than 1,500 metres away from a major interstate motorway, with less than 10% living within a 300-metre radius of one. The researchers found that higher exposure to each of the four pollutants was associated with a correspondingly heightened risk of death and shorter average and five-year survival rates. 

The trends were most noticeable for early stage disease, particularly adenocarcinoma, the most common type of non-small cell lung cancer, which accounts for 80% of lung cancer cases. Survival for patients with advanced disease was poor, irrespective of exposure to pollutants. 

Reductions in exposure to pollutants have the potential to improve lung cancer survival, the study authors said. 


Eckel S et al (2016) Air pollution affects lung cancer survival. Thorax. doi:10.1136/thoraxjnl-2015-207927

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