Air pollution may up mouth cancer risk

Mindy Sparks
October 14, 2018

After taking account of potentially influential factors, increasing levels of PM2.5 were associated with an increasing risk of mouth cancer.

For the study, the team looked at national air quality, cancer, health and insurance databases.

In 2012-13, they checked the health records of 482,659 men aged 40 and older who had attended preventive health services, and had provided information on smoking and betel quid chewing.

During that period, more than 1,600 mouth cancer diagnoses were made.

While smoking and paan chewing were identifiable risk factors, the researchers found that so were high levels of PM2.5, tiny particles that come from various sources including power plants, exhaust systems, airplanes, forest fires and dust storms.

Compared with men exposed to average annual PM2.5 levels of 26.74 micrograms (µg) per cubic metre (m3) of air, those exposed to concentrations of 40.37 µg/m3 or higher had 43 per cent greater odds of developing the disease.

Soot particles from burning fossil fuels increases the risk of mouth cancer, warns new research.

World Health Organization has warned that annual PM2.5s levels should not be higher than 10 μg/mHowever, multiple cities around the globe exceed this limit including Kabul, Beijing and New Delhi.


Although numerous health problems caused by air pollution come from traffic fumes, the study points out that burning wood, coal or other solid fuels in the home is the largest single contributor to production of the most risky pollutant, known as particulate matter: tiny particles that penetrate deep into the body.

In addition, there are certain limitations to consider such as the absence of data on how much PM2.5 enters the mouth or the length of exposure to the pollutant.

Middle-aged men living in 64 municipalities throughout Taiwan were more likely to develop oral cancer if they lived in places with high levels of air pollutants, the researchers report.

But some of the components of PM2.5 include heavy metals, as well as compounds such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons-known cancer causing agents-they say. However, they noted the small diameter of PM2.5 means it is easily absorbed into the body.

'This study, with a large sample size, is the first to associate oral cancer with PM2.5, ' said author Dr Michael McPhaul, medical director of endocrinology and metabolism at Quest Diagnostics.

However, the findings of the study will raise further concerns about the damaging effect of air pollution on people's health. It costs a lot to produce.

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