We all know that air pollution can damage our lungs and aggravate diseases such as asthma. Last summer, researchers in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters warned that air pollution will shave for two years from the lives of people in large cities.
But it's not just our lungs that are in danger. These vapors also contain chemicals that can cause cancer – especially endocrine disruptors, which are chemicals that disrupt hormones and are considered risk factors for breast cancer.
Traffic emissions also contain metals such as mercury and cadmium, which can be deposited in the breast tissue.
These vapors also contain chemicals that can cause cancer – particularly endocrine disruptors, which are chemicals that disrupt hormones and are recognized as recognized risk factors for breast cancer (file image)
There is increasing evidence that air pollution can significantly increase a woman's risk of contracting the disease.
One of the most important indicators of breast cancer risk is how dense a woman's breast tissue is. Studies show that women with dense breasts are six times more likely to develop breast cancer than women with dense breasts, making it a greater risk factor than alcohol, obesity or hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Breasts consist of fat, fibrous and glandular tissue. The more fibrous and glandular tissue in the breast, the denser it is. In women undergoing routine mammography screening, about 10 percent have nearly full fat breasts, 40 percent have dense breasts, and 10 percent have extremely dense breasts, according to U.S. Pat. Breast Imaging Reporting and Data Systems Lexicon.
Dense breasts contain more glandular tissue, where cancerous changes occur, as well as higher concentrations of growth factor, which makes cells replicate faster – making it more likely that they will mutate in cancer cells.
Although dense breasts can be inherited, we believe that pollution causes breasts to become denser. We do not know the mechanism for this, but large studies, including one published in Breast Cancer Research in April 2017, have shown that women in urban areas may have a higher breast density compared to women in rural environments with lower air pollution.
One theory is that very small contaminant particles, called PM 2.5 (smaller than 2.5 micrometers), can pass through the lung wall into the bloodstream and accumulate in fatty areas such as the breasts.
The greatest risk of all was in the square mile of the City of London, where the pollution is greatest (file image)
Our team at the London Breast Institute published a study in the Current Medical Research and Opinion magazine in 2007 that found that women living in central London have a higher breast density than women in remote areas of the UK – and therefore a higher risk of developing breast cancer have cancer.
The biggest risk was for everyone in the square kilometer of the City of London, where the pollution is greatest.
Our recent unpublished analysis has also shown that the risk is greater for women who live and work in London than they work in the city but live outside.
Dense tissue also makes it harder to pick up early signs of cancer because it is difficult to distinguish a tumor between all the dense tissue on a mammogram. So women with dense breasts can be diagnosed later when their cancer is harder to treat. So what can you do?
Currently, women who go to the NHS breast examination are not told how close their breasts are. But they should be, so that they can be more vigilant about changes.
In many US states, it is a legal requirement to tell women if they have dense breasts during a scanning procedure, so that they can opt for extra screening.
If British women knew they had dense breasts, they could opt for a more expensive ultrasound (costing around £ 350), which is more likely to show cancerous changes in dense breasts.
A 2018 study in the Journal of Medical Screening discovered that having an ultrasound and a mammogram picks up four additional cases of breast cancer per 1,000 women. But this would be an additional cost item for the NHS, so in my opinion it is not encouraged for cost reasons.
Our recent unpublished analysis has also shown that the risk is greater for women who live and work in London instead of working in the city but living outside (file image)
The next time you go for a mammogram, ask about your breast density. The radiologist can assess this from A (not at all close) to D (very close). You can then request an ultrasound or MRI or go home determined to check your breasts regularly.
What else can you do to protect yourself? When it comes to air pollution, knowledge is power, so ask your city council about the level of pollution in the area where you live and work.
If you often walk or cycle on a busy street, wearing a well-fitting face mask can significantly reduce the amount of particles entering your lungs. They may look strange, but they are quite effective.
Indoor air pollution is more difficult to estimate, but houses often contain high toxins from cleaning agents, plastics and even smoke from wood-burning stoves. These chemicals mimic estrogen, which we know can increase the risk of breast cancer.
Ensure that wood stoves are properly sealed in your home and use organic cleaning products that do not contain hormone-disrupting phthalates.
Make sure your diet is rich in antioxidants from fruits, vegetables, and green tea that can reduce DNA damage to cells. Taking vitamin D and omega-3 can also reduce breast density and counteract the effects of environmental pollution on the breasts.
We cannot afford to be complacent.
- Kefah Mokbel is a breast surgeon at St George & # 39; s Hospital in London and the London Breast Institute of The Princess Grace Hospital; and an honorary professor of breast cancer surgery at Brunel University in London.
Interview by THEA JOURDAN
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