An analysis of nearly 16,000 pediatric and adolescent/young adult (AYA) patients with cancer in Utah revealed that exposure to fine particulate matter was associated with increased mortality at 5 and 10 years after diagnosis of certain cancers, according to a study published by Ou et al in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.
“It is estimated that roughly 40% of Americans live in communities with unhealthy levels of air pollution,” said Judy Ou, PhD, a research scientist at the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. “Currently, there are no guidelines for long-term cancer survivors that advise reducing exposure to air pollution, nor are [patients with] cancer considered a population vulnerable to mortality or illness from air pollution. Our results suggest that limiting exposure to fine particulate matter may be important for the survival of younger…patients with specific cancers.”
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Studies have shown associations between increased exposure to fine particulate matter—defined as atmospheric particles less than 2.5 μm in diameter—and cancer mortality among adult patients with breast, liver, and lung cancers, yet the underlying biology of cancers in young patients potentially differs from cancers in adults, explained Dr. Ou. “Because the associations observed between exposure to fine particulate matter and increased cancer mortality in adults cannot be easily extrapolated to younger…patients, we wanted to study how continued exposure to fine particulate matter after diagnosis affected survival outcomes in this specific population,” she said.
Using information from the Utah Population Database and Utah Cancer Registry, Dr. Ou and colleagues followed 2,444 pediatric (ages 0 to 14) and 13,459 young adult and adolescent (AYA; ages 15 to 39) patients diagnosed with cancer while living in Utah from 1986 to 2015. These patients were followed from diagnosis to the clinically relevant time points of 5 and 10 years after diagnosis.
To estimate cumulative exposure to fine particulate matter, the researchers used data from stationary monitors provided by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Using this information, the researchers could model the association between cumulative exposure and mortality from cancer and all-causes. The exposure to fine particulate matter was measured continuously (in increments of 5 micrograms per cubic meter of air; µg/m3) and categorically (if exposure was equal to/exceeded the EPA annual standard of 12 µg/m3, based on the 3-year average of annual mean concentration of fine particulate matter) for these models. Models were adjusted for sex, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, among other factors.
Among pediatric patients, exposure to fine particulate matter was associated with an increased risk of death for the following specific cancers:
Overall, among AYA patients, exposure to fine particulate matter was associated with an increased risk of cancer mortality and all-cause mortality at both time points when exposure was measured categorically. Exposure to fine particulate matter was associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality at 5 years postdiagnosis when exposure was measured continuously.
Further, among AYA patients, exposure to fine particulate matter was associated with an increased risk of death for the following specific cancers:
“Exposure to air pollution is preventable to a degree on an individual level, but the responsibility ultimately lies with government policy to protect the public from this major health hazard,” said Dr. Ou. “We need patients and their caregivers to become informed advocates to support enforcing air quality policies at the local, state, and federal levels.”
As a limitation to the study, data for 1999 to 2015 were collected from stationary monitors measuring fine particulate matter throughout the state of Utah, but the data for 1986 to 1998 were collected from stationary monitors measuring coarse particulate matter, defined as atmospheric particles less than 10 μm in diameter, in four Utah counties that contain 80% of Utah’s population. “While fine particulate matter was not measured directly from 1986 to 1998, coarse particulate matter and fine particulate matter measurements are highly related, allowing us to extrapolate measures of fine particulate matter during these years,” explained Dr. Ou.
Disclosure: This study was sponsored by a grant from St. Baldrick’s Foundation, grants from the National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute (NCI), and NCI’s Geographic Management of Cancer Health Disparities program at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. Partial support for all datasets within the Utah Population Database was provided by the University of Utah Huntsman Cancer Institute and the Huntsman Cancer Institute Cancer Center Support grant from the National Cancer Institute. For full disclosures of the study authors, visit cebp.aacrjournals.org.The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.