Exhaust fumes have been conclusively linked to lung cancer
Today the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – part of the World Health Organisation – announced that it had reclassified diesel exhaust as a ‘definite carcinogen’ – putting it in its highest category (Category 1).
In other words, IARC’s expert panel assessed all the available scientific evidence and decided that exposure to diesel exhaust fumes can, and does, cause cancer in humans – specifically lung cancer (although there’s weak evidence they’re also linked to bladder cancer).
But what does this mean in practice? Is this something the general public should be worried about?
We spoke to Professor David Phillips – a Cancer Research UK-funded carcinogen expert from King’s College London – to ask him what he thought of the announcement.
Can cancer be prevented? Decades of research have shown that a person’s chances of getting cancer depends on a mishmash of their genes and their environment, but also certain aspects of their lives, many of which they can control.
As our press release says, these latest calculations, based on predicted cases for 2010, show that smoking, diet, alcohol and obesity are behind more than 100,000 cancers. This is equivalent to one third of all cancers diagnosed in the UK each year.
And this figure further increases to around 134,000 when taking into account all 14 lifestyle and environmental risk factors analysed in this study.
But to help make sense of the vast quantity of information contained in the 91-page report, we’ve also put together a graphic that shows the proportion of cancers that can be prevented through lifestyle changes. It’s worth spending a minute or so looking at the key to understand how to interpret the graphic (which you can download as a larger PDF version).
But did they, or is this another example of misreporting cancer research by the media?
Unfortunately, it’s the latter. This is an example of poor reporting, which makes unwarranted claims about human health. The research itself says nothing new about bladder cancer, and didn’t even involve people with the disease.
Our lifestyles have a great impact on our chances of developing cancer – as we’ve said many times. But the evidence that’s being used to justify these latest headlines doesn’t in any way support the assertion that cancer is modern or man-made.
In this case, researchers compared modern cancer rates to what they assume cancer rates were in pre-industrial civilisations. And they conclude that the difference between the two mean that cancer is caused by modernisation. We think this is completely unwarranted assumption, for a number of reasons – chiefly that people in ancient times didn’t live as long as people do nowadays, and cancer is predominantly a disease of older people.
We spoke to our director of Cancer Information, Dr Lesley Walker to find out what she thought of the story: