A recent BBC article discussed the link between air pollution and human health, specifically the development of cancer. According to a team of researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in London, air pollution doesn’t damage cells, but rather awakens old damaged cells. This discovery changes the way we understand tumors and how they are formed, and could mark a new era of cancer prevention and treatment. Armed with this information, the pharmaceutical industry can work to develop drugs that prevent cancers from forming.
Previously, science believed that cancer begins with a healthy cell that undergoes mutations to the point that it becomes a cancer and grows at an uncontrollable rate. However, there are issues with that theory because cancerous mutations are found in otherwise healthy tissue, and substances linked to cancer don’t seem to damage DNA. Apparently the damage is already present in the cell’s DNA from aging, and something has to trigger it to make it cancerous.
The researchers came to this realization by studying why non-smokers get lung cancer. Specifically, they focused on a form of pollution called particulate matter, which is less than 2.5 microns in diameter, or a quarter of the size of a dust or pollen particle. This opens the door to a possible cancer-blocking pill for people living in heavily polluted areas.