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Topic last updated: 09 Nov 2023
    • Biology Biology
    • Ico Science Science
    • 14-16
    • 120

Health, disease and the development of medicines

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Cancer and climate change

Climate change can also increase the risk of cancer through carcinogen exposure, just like smoking does. The extreme weather events that take place due to climate change (such as wildfires) are increasing the amount of carcinogens in the air, and this has an impact on cancer. For example, wildfires increase the amount of benzene (a known carcinogen) in water sources or the air, and benzene is known to cause leukemia.

Also, air pollution (including particulate matter) has been classified as a carcinogen by the International Agency of Research on Cancer (IARC), contributing to different types of cancer including lung cancer. Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) is commonly mutated in patients with lung cancer who have never smoked before, and PM2.5 has been linked to this (ESMO, 2022). When EGFR is mutated there is uncontrolled proliferation of the cells, meaning that cell division is uncontrollable and cancer cells are formed.

Climate change not only increases cancer incidence but also worsens prognosis due to access to health care. Natural disasters are becoming more frequent and these can damage infrastructure (such as health care buildings) or can disrupt the medicine supply chain, resulting in delayed diagnoses or treatments. For example, Hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico damaged transport networks and lead to the loss of electricity, which meant that the health care system couldn’t run and oncological care was temporarily compromised (AACR, 2021).