This pollution study revolutionizes the understanding of lung cancer


warodom changyencham/Getty Images Asian doctors speculate on X-ray images of lung patients infected with the corona virus. warodom changyencham / Getty Images Illustrative image showing an x-ray of a lung. HEALTH: As a ‘hidden killer’, air pollutants can cause lung cancer in non-smokers through a mechanism presented this Saturday 10 September in a study, which marks a ‘major step for science and society’ , according to experts. Already implicated in climate change, fine particles – less than 2.5 microns, about the diameter of a hair – are responsible for cancerous changes in the cells of the respiratory tract, according to scientists from the ‘Francis-Crick Institute and University College London. Present in exhaust gases, in the dust of vehicle brakes or in the fumes of fossil fuels, fine particles are “a hidden killer”, he told AFP Charles Swanton, of the Francis-Crick Institute, responsible for the research. , at the annual congress of the European Society of Medical Oncology, which takes place until September 13, in Paris. Although it has been some time suspected air pollution, “we weren’t sure if this pollution directly caused lung cancer, or how,” Professor Swanton explained. For the first time, researchers explored data from more than 460,000 residents of England, South Korea and Taiwan and showed that exposure to increasing concentrations of fine particles was linked to an increased risk of lung cancer. When and how lung cancer is triggered The main discovery is the mechanism by which these pollutants can trigger lung cancer in non-smokers. Using laboratory studies with mice, the researchers showed that the particles caused changes in two genes (EGFR and KRAS), already linked to lung cancer. They then analyzed nearly 250 samples of healthy human lung tissue, never exposed to tobacco carcinogens or heavy pollution. Mutations in the EGFR gene appeared in 18% of the samples, alterations in KRAS in 33%. “On their own, these mutations probably aren’t enough to cause cancer. But when you expose a cell to pollution, it’s likely to stimulate some sort of ‘inflammatory’ reaction, and if ‘the cell harbors a mutation, it will form cancer,” summarizes Professor Swanton. It is about “deciphering the biological mechanism of what was an enigma” but “quite confusing”, admits this medical director of Cancer Research UK, the main funder of the study. Traditionally, it is thought that exposure to carcinogens, such as cigarette smoke or pollution, caused genetic mutations in cells, making them cancerous and causing them to proliferate.For Suzette Delaloge, director of the cancer prevention program cancer at the Institut Gustave-Roussy, “it’s quite revolutionary because we had virtually no demonstration before of this alternative carcinogenesis.” “This study is quite an important step for science, and also for society, I hope,” he tell the ‘AFP this oncologist, responsible for debating the study at the congress. “This opens a great door to knowledge but also to prevention.” The next step will be to “understand why certain altered lung cells become cancerous after exposure to pollutants,” according to Professor Swanton. Air pollution worries everyone This study confirms that reducing air pollution is also crucial for health, several researchers insist. “We have a choice to smoke or not, but not the air we breathe. As probably five times more people are exposed to unhealthy levels of pollution than tobacco, this is a major global problem,” said the professor Swanton. More than 90% of the world’s population is exposed to what the WHO considers excessive levels of fine particulate pollutants. This research also gives hope for new approaches to prevention and treatment. To detect and prevent, Suzette Delaloge studies several ways but “not for tomorrow”: “personal assessment of our exposure to pollutants”, detection – not yet possible – of the EGFR genetic mutation, etc. According to Tony Mok of the University of Hong Kong, quoted in an ESMO press release, this research, “as intriguing as it is promising,” “allows us to consider one day looking for precancerous lesions in the lungs using imaging and then trying to treat them with drugs like interleukin-1 inhibitors?”. Professor Swanton imagines “what molecular cancer prevention could be in the future, with a pill, perhaps every day, to reduce the risk of cancer in high-risk areas.” See also at The HuffPost: You cannot view this content because you have declined cookies associated with third-party content. If you want to see this content, you can change your preferences.
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