New estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO) predict a 77% increase in cancer cases globally by 2050. The report points to air pollution as one of the factors driving the expected increase in cancer rates, even though it does not have the same effect on everyone.
As a global health watchdog, the WHO rarely has good news. It stayed true to its mission ahead of World Cancer Day, when its International Agency for Research on Cancer released a report on February 1 predicting an increase of some 35 million new cases of cancer by 2050. This represents an increase of 77% compared to 2022, noted WHO.
Among the factors driving the expected increase in cancer rates was air pollution.
Fine particles lead to cell dysfunction
“This mainly concerns fine particle pollution”, said Dr Emmanuel Ricard, a spokesperson for the French League Against Cancer.
Diesel exhaust is one of the main sources of these particles, he said. The finest of these particles can descend into the lungs, all the way down to the alveoli. These are the tiny air sacs located at the end of the respiratory tree-like structure of the lung, where the blood exchanges oxygen and carbon dioxide during the process of breathing in and breathing out.
The body’s defence cells will “want” to remove these particles, and inflammation follows. This ends up disrupting the cells which, instead of continuing to replicate in a healthy way, will begin to “dysfunction”, becoming cancerous. “These cancer cells will multiply, and form a tumour,” Ricard said.
More people, and older
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