Exposure to harmful environmental factors such as poor air, water and land quality may increase the risk of prostate and breast cancer, a new study warns.
Researchers from University of Illinois in the US investigated the effects of overall environmental quality across multiple domains – including air, water, and land quality, sociodemographic environment and built environment.
They linked Environmental Quality Index, a county-level measure of cumulative environmental exposures, with cancer incidence rates.
They found that the average annual incidence rate for all types of cancer was 451 cases per 100,000 people.
Counties with poor environmental quality demonstrated a higher incidence of cancer cases – on average 39 more cases per 100,000 people than counties with high environmental quality over the study period.
Increased rates were seen for both males and females, and prostate and breast cancer demonstrated the strongest positive associations with poor environmental quality, researchers said.
“Our study is the first we are aware of to address the impact of cumulative environmental exposures on cancer incidence,” said Jyotsna S Jagai from University of Illinois.
“This work helps support the idea that all of the exposures we experience affect our health, and underscores the potential for social and environmental improvements to positively impact health outcomes.
Jagai noted that research has traditionally focused on individual environmental exposures, which is important for understanding specific mechanisms that can cause disease.
However, cancer development is dependent on the totality of exposures people face, including social stressors.
“Therefore, we must consider the overall environment that one is exposed to in order to understand the potential risk for cancer development,” she said.
The study was published in the journal Cancer.