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Particulate matter in the environment measuring less than 2.5 μm promotes lung cancer by spurring the growth of lung cells with preexisting oncogenic variants, according to an analysis of epidemiological evidence combined with results from mouse and human cell models.
After linking levels of small particulate matter with 32 957 cases of epidermal growth factor receptor–driven lung cancer across 4 countries, the researchers showed that exposure to air pollutants drove an influx of macrophages, which released the signaling molecule interleukin 1β, into the lungs of mice. Interleukin 1β, in turn, promoted tumor growth.
The results have “major implications for how to think about cancer prevention,” wrote the author of an associated editorial, who noted that the study should encourage a shift toward dietary or pharmacological prevention of cancer caused by air pollution until public health policies aimed at reducing environmental particulate matter catch up.