Air pollution caused by vehicle traffic causes a higher risk of developing cancer and death in cardiac patients, according to a dramatic new Tel Aviv University (TAU) study funded by the Israel Cancer Society:
Airborne pollutants that reach the environment in and near the homes of heart patients, who are vulnerable populations, raise their risk of prostate, lung and breast cancer by 50%, according to the study led by Prof. Yariv Gerber, chairman of the department of epidemiology and preventive medicine at Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Medicine and doctoral student Gali Cohen.
The study strengthens the International Cancer Research Agency’s recent statement that air pollution is a carcinogen for humans. The research, in which Prof. Ran Kornowski, chief of cardiology at the Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva, and Prof. David Broday of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology’s Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering also participated, will be published in the September 2019 issue of the journal Environmental Research.
.As part of the study, the researchers gathered information on more than 12,000 patients, most of the residents of central Israel, who underwent cardiac catheterization at Rabin Medical Center from 2004 and 2014. Using the National Cancer Registry’s database, the researchers found that more than 700 patients contracted cancer during the post-catheterization follow-up period, and about 3,000 died. This information was cross-linked with estimates of chronic exposure to transport pollutants, obtained through two advanced mathematical models from the Technion and the Hebrew University,
“We used two models to increase the certainty of the findings,” said Cohen. “The models were based on data from dozens of pollution- monitoring stations scattered across the country, and each model also took into account additional data, such as transport volumes, weather, and geographic variables. We used them to estimate as accurately as possible the exposure level in the air of nitrogen oxides (NOs), which are considered a reliable measure of the level of transport pollution.
Since most patients were residents of central Israel, the differences in exposure levels did not reflect living in different areas, but they vary within each city itself, such as proximity to busy roads. Personal risk factors such as smoking and socioeconomic status were taken into account.
The findings showed that high exposure (over 25 particles per billion) of nitrogen oxides from air pollution due to vehicles is associated with a significant increase – up to 1.56 times – in the risk of heart patients to develop prostate, lung and breast cancers. The higher the exposure, the higher the risk. No other relationship was found with regard to other cancers.
It is important to note that data from the Israel Cancer Society and the Health Ministry in Jerusalem indicate that about 2,500 patients with lung cancer, 5,500 with breast cancer patients and 2,000 with prostate cancer are diagnosed in Israel each year.
At the same time, according to the Israel Cardiology Association, approximately 20,000 patients are diagnosed here each year with myocardial infarction (heart attack).
“Among the population of subjects, we detected close to 300 new cases of lung, breast, and prostate cancer, and the models showed a significant and direct statistical relationship between high exposure to transport pollution and the risk of disease,” Cohen noted. Mortality was also associated with transport air pollution, but it is important to emphasize that this is an observational study that does not allow for a definitive conclusion about the existence of a causal link between air pollution and the health outcomes being investigated, as there may be other explanations.
However, the new strengthens the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s statement in 2013 and the Health Ministry’s announcement the following year that exposure to air pollution due to vehicle traffic is a cause of human cancer.