In the News

Air pollution and lung cancer: New discoveries

Liz Blamire

20th September 2022

New research by the Francis Crick Institute and UCL has revealed how air pollution can cause lung cancer in people that have never smoked.

In this report - Scientists reveal how air pollution can cause lung cancer in people who have never smoked - it is revealed that air pollution and specifically PM2.5 (a very tiny particulate, far smaller the diameter of a human hair), is directly responsible for some lung cancers.

For the first time, scientists have been able to uncover the mechanism of action and explain to us how air pollution causes cancer.

Professor Charles Swanton, lead researcher, says:

“Cells with cancer-causing mutations accumulate naturally as we age, but they are normally inactive. We’ve demonstrated that air pollution wakes these cells up in the lungs, encouraging them to grow and potentially form tumours.“

"The mechanism we’ve identified could ultimately help us to find better ways to prevent and treat lung cancer in never smokers. If we can stop cells from growing in response to air pollution, we can reduce the risk of lung cancer.”

Lung cancer and pollution facts

  • Smoking remains the biggest risk factor for lung cancer
  • But outdoor air pollution causes roughly 1 in 10 cases of lung cancer in the UK.
  • An estimated 6,000 people who have never smoked die of lung cancer every year in the UK, some of which may be due to air pollution exposure.
  • Globally, around 300,000 lung cancer deaths in 2019 were attributed to exposure to PM2.5.

Liz Blamire

Liz is a former NHS midwife, who has worked in community, birth centre and acute hospital settings. Liz is an SSAT Accredited Lead Practitioner, who has taught Health and Social Care in FE and secondary schools, where she was a successful HOD. Liz is an experienced senior examiner and author and is the current tutor2u subject lead for Health and Social Care.

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