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Expert reaction to study looking at air pollution and lung cancer survival

Professor Michael Peake (pictured), Honorary Consultant and Professor of Respiratory Medicine from the Institute for Lung Health has commented on new research suggesting that pollution may shorten lung cancer patients' lives.

The new research by a team in the United States adds to growing evidence about the health impact of airborne toxins, showing that those diagnosed with early-stage lung cancer are most at risk of an early death. The research suggests this applies in particular to people with adenocarcinoma, the commonest form on non-small cell lung cancer, which accounts for 80% of cases of the disease.

In response to these findings, in an Expert Comment for the Science Media Centre, Professor Peake said: "Air pollution is well known to be a factor in the causation of lung cancer, but this study is the first to demonstrate a significant impact of air pollution on survival in patients who have already been diagnosed with lung cancer.

“I believe the findings are of particular importance because the largest impact on survival was in the group of patients with early stage cancers, many of whom are potentially curable. For this group of patients, the authors showed that in those patients with the highest level of exposure to air pollutants, the proportion who remained alive at 5 years was 30% compared to 50% of those with the lowest level of exposure.

“Overall lung cancer survival remains poor and there are great efforts to promote its earlier diagnosis, such as increasing public awareness of the symptoms of lung cancer and the introduction of screening programmes. This work suggests that high levels of air pollution are likely to significantly reduce the impact of such efforts on the numbers of people who eventually die of lung cancer, even if detected early. It adds significant weight to the urgent need for more strenuous efforts to reduce air pollution.”

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