WEDNESDAY, July 10 (HealthDay News) -- There's more evidence
that smog boosts a person's risk of both lung cancer and heart
failure, with even short exposures to small amounts of pollution
harming the body.
A pair of newly published European studies found that regularly
breathing in air tainted with even low levels of air pollution
raises your long-term risk of lung cancer. That finding came from a
review of data from nearly 313,000 people across nine European
countries. The study was published online July 10 in
The Lancet Oncology.
At the same time, short-term exposure to smog has also been
linked to increased risk of hospitalization or death from heart
failure, according to a study led by the University of Edinburgh
that reviewed data from 12 countries worldwide, published the same
The findings of the two studies further corroborate the known
health risks of air pollution, said Dr. Albert Rizzo, immediate
past chair of the national board of directors of the American Lung
Association. He was not involved with the new research.
"On a day-to-day basis, a lot of people who aren't diagnosed with a specific illness may not know the importance of protecting yourself against these pollutants. Insult to your airways on a repeated basis can lead to dire consequences," said Rizzo, section chief of pulmonary/critical care medicine at Christiana Care Health System, in Wilmington, Del.
The lung cancer study assessed the risk of long-term exposure to
particulate matter in the air by comparing local air pollution
levels to reported cases of cancer, in an effort led by the Danish
Cancer Society Research Center.
Researchers found that the risk of lung cancer grew with even
tiny increases in the amount of particulate pollution in the air.
Particulate pollution is the sort of black sooty smoke produced by
diesel trucks and buses and by coal-fired power plants.
For example, consider that a human hair is about 70 micrometers
wide. Lung cancer risk rose 18 percent every time the amount of 2.5
micrometer-wide particulates increased by 5 micrograms per cubic
meter of air, the study said. Risk rose 22 percent every time the
amount of 10 micrometer-wide particulates increased by 10
micrograms per cubic meter of air.
"We found no threshold below which there was no risk; the results showed a picture that 'the more the worse, the less the better," the authors said in a journal news release.
The other study compared air quality conditions in specific
areas with reports of heart failure hospitalization or death.
Researchers found that smog concentration is closely associated
with heart failure hospitalization and death.
More specifically, they calculated that the risk of being
hospitalized or dying from heart failure rose by about 3.5 percent
with every increase of 1 part per million of carbon monoxide and
about 2.4 percent for every increase of 10 parts per billion of
Risk also rose 1.7 percent for every 10 parts per billion
increase in levels of nitrogen dioxide, and 2 percent for every
increase of 10 micrograms per cubic meter of particulate
The study estimates that a modest reduction in particulate
levels in the United States could prevent roughly 8,000 heart
failure hospitalizations and save more than $300 million
The researchers speculate that smog causes inflammation of the
lungs that spills over and creates stress on the heart.
"Even a healthy young athlete who jogs on a high ozone day is going to feel that exposure," Rizzo said. Less healthy people might end up suffering heart failure from the increased stress.
To protect themselves, people in areas with high levels of air
pollution should consider installing HEPA (high-efficiency
particulate air) filters in their homes, said Dr. Len Horovitz, a
pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital, in New York City.
"This is something that people can do in the home or office to filter the air and get some of the particular offenders trapped in filters," Horovitz said. "A toxic substance is going right into the lungs, and I don't think it's a leap of scientific understanding to know it's bad for you when you apply a toxic substance directly to tissue."
People also should avoid going outside during times of heavy
concentrations of air pollution, particularly if they are
performing strenuous tasks like mowing or exercising, Horovitz
For his part, Rizzo said people also should lobby the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency to tighten the nation's clean air
To learn more about particulate pollution, visit the
Environmental Protection Agency.
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