Sperling Prostate Center

Does Air Pollution Increase Prostate Cancer Risk?

You can’t inhale pollutants without putting your health on the line. An obvious example is smoking cigarettes. Ooh, there’s a truly bad thing to do to your body.

Besides the known risk of lung cancer, which kills more people in the U.S. than any other cancer, smokers are polluting not just their lungs but their entire body. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that inhaling tobacco smoke ups the chances for heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Smoking also increases risk for tuberculosis, certain eye diseases, and problems of the immune system, including rheumatoid arthritis. And what about nonsmokers affected by secondhand cigarette smoke? Children, in particular, are the hapless victims of other smokers in their own homes.

What about prostate cancer (PCa)? There are more than 7000 chemicals in cigarette smoke, 250 of which are known to be harmful and of those, 69 are known to cause and worsen cancer. It’s estimated that smokers have a 40-60% greater risk of developing PCa than nonsmokers.[i] And, as I wrote in a recent blog, men with PCa who are also smokers are 89% more likely to die of their cancer than nonsmoking PCa patients.

All that said, if you’re not a smoker currently, or even if you never smoked a cigarette in your life, there is another breathable threat that can up your PCa chances: air pollution. Now, you may be expecting me to again cite an obvious example: data from China, a huge nation where rapid industrialization and reliance on fossil fuels pose alarming dangers to its population. I say obvious because many papers, like the 2016 one by Bode, et al. point to the significant increase in PCa among Chinese men attributable to environmental exposure to carcinogens in air pollution as well as smoking. Many Americans assume that we are somehow exempt from such exposure.

I wish that were true, but we’re not as safe as we think. A 2022 study, “Ambient Air Pollution and Prostate Cancer Risk…” has come to us from our national neighbor, Canada.[ii] It challenges us to rethink the effect of two specific toxic substances that are present in the air we breathe every day: fine particulate matter (very tiny particles that are 2.5 microns or less in diameter, abbreviated as PM2.5) and a gas called nitrogen dioxide (abbreviated as NO2). Both the particles and the gas are formed from high temperature burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil, gas, or diesel. There are other airborne pollutants such as larger particulate matter, but the authors focused their research on those two pollutants. Their study population consisted of 1420 men age 50+ and 1424 controls for whom risk factor and residential history data were available (1975 to 1994). Residential exposure to air pollution was calculated from satellite-derived observations, satellite-derived observations scaled with historical fixed-site measurements, and a national land-use regression model.

By comparing the risk factors of the exposure group with the control group, and the incidence of PCa in each group, the authors determined that outdoor exposure to PM2.5 and NO2 were linked with an increased risk of PCa. Why is this article important? By this time, we all know that air pollution is a source of physical harm, especially to our lungs and cardiovascular system—but it’s much less obvious that what a man breathes in can affect a small, well-protected gland in his pelvic bed. This article, with its concrete measurable data and its association to PCa, fills a noteworthy gap in published research regarding the air we breathe and the development of non-respiratory cancers.

If you’re a man who lives in an area renowned for its clean air, you can consider yourself lucky to have one less risk factor for PCa. Other men who are less fortunate may be interested in reading the entire article, which is available here.

In either case, if you’re a smoker who wants to quit for the sake of your health, the American Lung Association offers resources to achieve success in saying goodbye to cigarettes. Not just your lungs, but your prostate will thank you.

NOTE: This content is solely for purposes of information and does not substitute for diagnostic or medical advice. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing pelvic pain, or have any other health concerns or questions of a personal medical nature.

[i] Plaskon LA, Penson DF, Vaughan TL, Stanford JL. Cigarette smoking and risk of prostate cancer in middle-aged men. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2003 Jul;12(7):604-9.
[ii] Youogo LMK, Parent ME, Hystad P, Villeneuve PJ. Ambient air pollution and prostate cancer risk in a population-based Canadian case-control study. Environ Epidemiol. 2022 Jul 19;6(4):e219.


About Dr. Dan Sperling

Dan Sperling, MD, DABR, is a board certified radiologist who is globally recognized as a leader in multiparametric MRI for the detection and diagnosis of a range of disease conditions. As Medical Director of the Sperling Prostate Center, Sperling Medical Group and Sperling Neurosurgery Associates, he and his team are on the leading edge of significant change in medical practice. He is the co-author of the new patient book Redefining Prostate Cancer, and is a contributing author on over 25 published studies. For more information, contact the Sperling Prostate Center.

You may also be interested in...

WordPress Image Lightbox