What influence do pollutants in the environment have on how often people develop cancer? The EU Environment Agency takes a close look at the connections, with a clear message.
According to EU experts, around every tenth cancer in Europe can be traced back to external factors such as pollutants. Air pollution, carcinogenic chemicals, UV light and passive smoking together are responsible for an estimated 10 percent of all cancers, and probably for significantly more, as the EU Environment Agency EEA writes in a report. Smoking, alcohol consumption or your own diet are not included in this analysis.
The good news is that environmental and occupational cancer risks can be reduced by tackling environmental pollution and changing behaviour, the Copenhagen-based agency said. It is an effective and inexpensive way to reduce the number of cancer cases and deaths. The EEA concludes: 'Environmental and occupational cancer risks are inherently preventable and reducing them is key to reducing the cancer burden in Europe.'
EEA Executive Director Hans Bruyninckx explained that the reduction of pollution through the EU action plan "Zero Pollution", the chemicals strategy for sustainability and the consistent implementation of existing EU measures would make a major contribution to reducing the number of cancers. "It would be an effective investment in the well-being of our citizens." EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius emphasized: "What is better for the environment is also better for us."
The study was the first for the EEA to examine how cancer and the environment are linked. Among other things, the EU authority examined the latest scientific findings on air pollution, radon, asbestos, UV radiation and other man-made and natural environmental factors that can have a negative impact on people's health. The EEA's findings clearly show how closely the health of the planet is linked to the health of citizens, said EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides. "We must work with nature, not against it."
The Environment Agency pointed out that the data was incomplete and the associated uncertainties were great. "There is a lot we don't know. But what we do know calls for much more action," said EEA expert Gerardo Sanchez. There is not much individual citizens could do to prevent exposure to pollutants. Rather, more political measures, regulations and a push for implementation are needed. There are enough suggested solutions.
With almost 2.7 million new diagnoses and 1.3 million deaths each year, the EU is more affected by cancer than other regions of the world. Although less than 10 percent of the world's population lives in Europe, according to the EEA, it accounts for almost 23 percent of new cases and 20 percent of deaths worldwide. The most common cause of death is only circulatory diseases. According to the EEA, this high incidence of cancer can be explained by several factors, including lifestyle including smoking, alcohol consumption and diet, but also with aging - and also with the fact that people are permanently exposed to pollutants.
'The lives of almost all Europeans are bound to be affected in some way by cancer, whether they are themselves or their family, friends or community,' writes the EEA. There are also significant economic costs: According to a study, they were estimated at 178 billion euros in 2018, as the agency stated.
(This article was first published on Tuesday, June 28, 2022.)