Published: Sun, October 14, 2018
Research | By Raquel Erickson

Air pollution linked to high risk of oral cancer

Air pollution linked to high risk of oral cancer

High levels of air pollutants, especially fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and to a lesser extent, ozone, may be linked to a heightened risk of developing mouth cancer, suggests a study by a team of Taiwanese researchers.

Cases of mouth cancer, which can be fatal, are increasing in many parts of the world.

To explore the potential role of air pollution in the development of oral cancer, Professor Yung-Po Liaw and his colleagues used national databases on cancer, health, insurance, and air quality.

They analyzed the levels of various pollutants, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and sulphur dioxide, measured in 2009 at 66 monitoring stations in Taiwan.

Next, they examined the health records of more than 482,000 men aged 40 or older that attended preventive health services relating to quitting smoking or chewing paan between 2012 and 2013. They added that further research is needed to investigate exactly how air pollutants might contribute to mouth cancer.

Almost 49,750 Americans are diagnosed with mouth cancer every year, and only about half will still be alive in five years, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. Researchers ruled out factors such as age, smoking habits, and betel quid intake.


Liaw said people concerned about mouth cancer should pay attention to air quality reports and avoid prolonged outdoor activities when particulate pollution levels are too high.

When compared with levels below 26.74 ug/m3, those above 40.37 ug/ m3 were associated with a 43 per cent heightened risk of a mouth cancer diagnosis.

"Given that numerous compounds that comprise overall fine particulate matter are carcinogens, this study raises important questions related to the health effects of pollution, beyond cardiac and respiratory effects", said Moline, vice president of occupational medicine, epidemiology and prevention. These include the lack of data on how much PM2.5 enters the mouth, or on long term exposure to this 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. Some components of fine particulate matter PM2.5 include heavy metals, as well as compounds such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, some well-known carcinogens. "These results are in addition to the growing evidence of the adverse effects of PM2.5 on human health", as they noted. This work by Taiwanese researchers was published earlier in the Journal of Investigative Medicine.

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