Experts Say Outdoor Air Pollution Causes Cancer

Outdoor air pollution classified as carcinogenic to humans by IARC

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Not long ago, scientists declared that diesel fumes were cancer-causing and linked to lung cancer. An international body has now gone a step further in classifying outdoor air pollution.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has declared that outdoor air pollution causes cancer and classified it as carcinogenic to humans.

World experts have also concluded that outdoor air pollution is a leading environmental cause of cancer deaths.

The scientists reported there is now sufficient evidence that outdoor air pollution causes lung cancer and may increase the risk of bladder cancer.

"Protect yourself from outdoor air pollution."

Dana Loomis, PhD, associate director of Cancer Prevention & Control at the Eppley Cancer Institute of the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Deputy Head of the IARC Monographs Section, was the lead author of this summary evaluation.

A total of 24 experts from 11 countries gathered in Lyons, France to assess whether outdoor air pollution is carcinogenic (cancer causing).

The experts were convened by the IARC Monographs Programme.

The IARC is the cancer agency of the World Health Organization (WHO), and the IARC Monographs Programme is considered the world’s foremost authority on cancer-causing substances and exposures.

The classification of outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic to humans is based on the review of more than 1,000 studies from around the world that included millions of people living in Europe, Asia, North and South America.

“Transport, power generation, industrial activity, biomass burning, and domestic heating and cooking are the predominant anthropogenic [pollution due to human activity] sources in many locations,” the authors wrote.

In past investigations, the IARC has evaluated individual outdoor air pollutants including diesel engine exhausts, metals, solvents and particulate matter (minute solid particles and liquid droplets).

“The results from the reviewed studies point in the same direction: the risk of developing lung cancer is significantly increased in people exposed to air pollution,” Dr. Loomis said in a statement.

The researchers reported that the latest data from 2010 indicates that some 223,000 lung cancer deaths resulted from air pollution.

“Pollution levels in Western Europe and North America have generally declined since the late 20th century, but they are increasing in some rapidly industrializing countries, notably in Asia,” the authors wrote.

Despite these trends, the conclusions apply to the entire world.

Occupational exposures to air pollution are of particular concern to certain workers, including traffic police, drivers and street vendors, according to the IARC.

"This study supports the fact that air pollution is a significant cause of lung cancer," David Horvick, MD, Radiation Oncologist with 21st Century Oncology of New Jersey, told dailyRx News. "For individuals, avoidance of areas with particularly high levels of pollution — for example, areas with heavy car and truck traffic — should be avoided if at all possible."

Experts evaluated particulate matter, which is a primary component of air pollution, and also classified it as carcinogenic to humans.

The summary evaluation of the classification was published October 24 in The Lancet Oncology.

No conflicts of interest were reported among the summary authors.

Review Date: 
October 28, 2013
Last Updated:
December 30, 2013