Susceptibility to Pollution Affects Risk of Lung Cancer

It’s well-established that certain environmental pollutants are linked with adverse health effects. Emergency room visits increase on days with poor air quality for those with asthma, for example, and lead exposure can slow cognitive development. Some groups of people, however, may be more susceptible to the adverse effects associated with environmental pollutants than others, potentially leading to differences in the risk of developing lung cancer.

An article published in Scientific Reports determined just how much susceptibility to pollution might influence the risk of lung cancer. In the study, Shen et al. estimated the risk of lung cancer associated with exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), environmental pollutants formed from the combustion of fuels. To calculate susceptibility, the authors took into account both genetic make-up and the amount of exposure to PAHs. The study found that if data on susceptibility were excluded, the risk of lung cancer from PAH exposure was underestimated by as much as 55%.  

The study highlights the importance of taking into account genetic and environmental data when calculating the risk of disease. Not only can incorporating people’s susceptibility to the harmful effects of pollution improve the ability to predict disease, it can also help public health officials make more informed decisions related to environmental air quality.

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