New breakthrough research presented at the Conference of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO, 2022) resounds a wake-up call on PM2.5/air pollution’s impact on human health. Despite decades of research on air pollution on lung diseases such as cancer, there are still concerns about a clearer explanation of how we get cancer. Ukraine already has a high cancer burden before the war started with 160 000 new diagnoses in 2020 alone. The childhood mortality rate is one of the highest in the world.
The ESMO findings have implications for health care services and humanitarian support for the more than 2 million Ukrainians displaced across the EU since the Russian invasion. It is therefore critical to examine the “double breakthrough” recently uncovered by scientists (The LANCET Oncology, 2022).
Why Many Non-smokers Develop Lung Disease
Researchers reportedly stopped cancers forming in mice exposed to air pollution by using a drug that blocks the alarm signal. The breakthrough marked a “new era” to possibly developing drugs to stop cancers forming in humans. Prof Charles Swanton of the Francis Crick Institute and University College London at the ESMO, 2022 presented the following based on their findings:
- Places with higher levels of air pollution had more lung cancers not caused by smoking
- Air pollution was waking up old damaged cells rather than causing damage
- At 50-year-old, about one in every 600,000 cells in the human lungs already contains potentially cancerous mutations (acquired as we age and appear completely healthy until they are activated by the chemical alarm and become cancerous).
- Air pollution does not cause cancer by triggering such genetic changes unlike smoking or sun exposure which directly causes DNA mutations linked to lung and skin cancer.
- Cells carrying dormant mutations can turn cancerous when exposed to PM2.5 particles. The pollutant is the equivalent of the ignition spark on a gas hob (The Guardian, 2022; BBC News, 2022).
Increasing Climate and Public Health Outcomes
Although we may have no control over what we breathe, these new ESMO findings are a wake-up call to stop ignoring climate health if we want to address public health.
There has been an increasing call from climate change activism and global initiatives to urgently address climate change and sustainable ecosystems. Norway is one of the countries leading the way in using Electric Vehicles (EVs) to improve climate and public health. With the Norwegian EV policy in place, the path to transition to zero-emission (electric or hydrogen) by 2025 is clearer than ever. For countries like Ukraine, this may appear to be a formidable challenge.
AVERE Ukraine – АВЕРЕ Україна has been collaborating with local and international stakeholders on EVs, including participating at EVS35 in Oslo, Norway earlier this year. The association welcomes international collaboration to rebuild and reinforce scaling electromobility, sustainable transport, and the infrastructure ecosystem in Ukraine.
Author Joyce Anthonia Ojokojo