Thursday, November 11, 2010

Breast Cancer Linked To Traffic Related Air Pollution?

Cassandra Wiesner

In the Globe and Mail article, “Breast Cancer Linked to Traffic Related Air Pollution” (6 October 2010), a very startling claim is being made. The title suggests that concrete proof has been found that breast cancer has been linked to air pollution. The study was done in Montreal by a research group from McGill University and the University Of Montreal. They measured the pollution from vehicles at 130 different locations around Montreal, and then compared it to the home addresses of the women in Montreal who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Professor Goldberg, a researcher at the McGill University Health Centre has stated, “Women living in the areas with higher levels of pollution were almost twice as likely to develop breast cancer as those living in the lower polluted areas”. They believe that exposure to smog-causing nitrogen dioxide will raise the risk of cancer by 25% for every increase of nitrogen dioxide of five parts per billion. The problem is there has not been nearly enough research done to make this claim. There are countless variables that have not been measured or taken into account. For example, during the study they did not talk to each of the women individually to find out how much time they spent indoors versus outdoors, where they worked, how they travelled to work, if they spend a lot of time in the city or in the suburbs, or if they spend a lot of time around their homes where the “pockets of high air pollution” exist. The researchers cannot make the claim that women living in these areas are twice as likely to get breast cancer based on merely geography.

Not only did the researchers not take into account the different lifestyles of these women, but they only based the study on breast cancer, in post-menopausal women, yet many women get breast cancer before they go through menopause. As well, if they are thinking that the risk of breast cancer is increased by the nitrogen dioxide in air pollution, could air pollution not affect other types of cancers? Is it only nitrogen dioxide that is increasing this risk? There are many chemicals put into the atmosphere every day from many different sources, such as factories, chemical plants, airplanes and even our own homes. Furthermore, the study has been conducted in only one Canadian city. They have not compared their findings to a control group of any kind outside of Montreal, let alone outside of Canada. As you can see, there are countless questions that remain unanswered, which is why these conclusions cannot yet be made.

However, Ingrid Peritz, the author of the news article, does talk about how vehicle pollution is a strong contributor to the harm of our environment as well. Of course this is a very true statement, and of course, one way or another, the polluted air we breathe will have an effect on our health. The fact that there is even a possibility that traffic related pollution may increase the risk of breast cancer should make people want to decrease the number of vehicles on the road. This way we could potentially be reducing the risk of breast cancer and reducing the amount of pollution that is being put into the environment. Either way, breathing in polluted air will have many long term effects on our health, whether it increases the risk of breast cancer or not. Any decrease in air pollution would be beneficial to our health, and the health of our environment.

In the peer-reviewed study led by Hung Chen it was stated in conclusion of their experiment that further study is needed on the subject to ensure accuracy. They also stated that there were many limitations, which I have pointed out earlier. Therefore Ingrid Peritz had known while writing her newspaper article that there was not enough research done. Although, having the title “Breast cancer linked to traffic related air pollution” is certainly a catchy title that will encourage readers to read her article. Nevertheless, Peritz should have gone about writing her article in a different way to avoid being accused of claiming such an argument.

In conclusion, pollution is going to have long term effects on our health one way or another. Whether it can lead to health problems as severe as cancer is still unknown based on the information of this study. There has not been enough research done on the subject, and too many questions still remain unanswered. Ingrid Peritz was wrong to title her newspaper article, “Breast cancer linked to traffic related air pollution” because it makes her sound like she is personally making the claim that this is true, when it hasn’t been proven yet. Having said that, I definitely agree that more research should be done on this subject because if it is true, there will be much more drive to get fuel-guzzling cars off the streets. This would not only lead us on the way to conquer breast cancer, but it would also help save our environment.


Peritz, Ingrid. (2010) Breast cancer linked to traffic related air pollution. The Globe and Mail, 6 October 2010. Accessed 11 November 2010.

Chen, H., Goldberg, M., et al. (2010). Back-extrapolations of estimates of exposure from current land-use regression models. Atmospheric Environment. 44: 4346-4354.

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