Prostate and breast cancer are strongly linked to poor environmental quality, a new study found.
Researchers at the University of Illinois, Chicago linked the Environmental Quality Index, a county-level measure of cumulative environmental exposures, with cancer incidence rates.
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.
Prostate and breast cancer in particular demonstrated strong links with poor environmental quality, according to the study which examined air, water, and land quality; sociodemographic environment; and built environment.
“Our study is the first we are aware of to address the impact of cumulative environmental exposures on cancer incidence,” said the University of Illinois’ Dr. Jyotsna S. Jagai. “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.”
Research has traditionally focused on individual environmental exposures, which is important for understanding specific mechanisms that can cause disease, Jagai said. However, cancer development is dependent on all exposures people face, including social stress.
“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, published online in Cancer, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, may help to reduce the burden of cancer by allowing officials to identify vulnerable communities in need of attention, the authors said.