High levels of air pollutants, especially fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and to a lesser extent, ozone, may be linked to a heightened risk of developing mouth cancer, suggests the first study of its kind, published online in the Journal of Investigative Medicine.
The number of new cases, and deaths from, mouth cancer is increasing in many parts of the world. Known risk factors include smoking, drinking, human papilloma virus, and in parts of South East Asia, the chewing of betel quid (‘paan’), a mix of ingredients wrapped in betel leaf.
Exposure to heavy metals and emissions from petrochemical plants are also thought to be implicated in the development of the disease, while air pollution, especially PM2.5, is known to be harmful to respiratory and cardiovascular health.
To find out if air pollutants might have a role in the development of mouth cancer, the researchers mined national cancer, health, insurance, and air quality databases.
They drew on average levels of air pollutants (sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and varying sizes of fine particulate matter), measured in 2009 at 66 air quality monitoring stations across Taiwan.
In 2012-13, they checked the health records of 482,659 men aged
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