Dirty Air Can Boost Lung Cancer Risk

But researchers note smoking still poses far greater danger

THURSDAY, Dec. 4, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Chronic air pollution may increase the risk of lung cancer, says a Norwegian study in the new issue of Thorax.

The study included 16,209 men living in Oslo who were monitored from 1972 until 1998. Researchers estimated the average levels of residential air pollution the men would have been exposed to for every year between 1974 and 1995. The men's names were checked against national data on reported cancer cases and deaths.

Over the course of the monitoring period, 418 of the men developed lung cancer. After accounting for other factors, such as age, education, income and smoking habits, the researchers concluded that higher levels of air pollution were associated with a higher risk of lung cancer.

The risk of developing lung cancer was 8 percent greater for men living in areas where ambient levels of nitrogen oxide increased by 10 ig/m3 between 1974 and 1978. The risk was 1 percent higher for men living in areas with a corresponding increase in sulfur dioxide levels.

The main source of nitrogen oxide was traffic, while heating was the main source of sulfur dioxide. These pollutants aren't likely to cause cancer on their own, but they could be indicators of the presence of other cancer-causing agents in the air, the study authors suggest.

They note that smoking presents a much greater risk of lung cancer.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about air pollution and health.

SOURCE: BMJ Specialist Journals, news release, Dec. 3, 2003
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