A new risk factor that might help explain the recent increase in the chances of developing mouth cancer has been uncovered
The rates of mouth cancer cases has drastically increased in certain parts of the world, over the past couple of decades. The rate of mouth cancer and mortality rates has generally declined in the United States. Yet, when studied at a state level, the data reveal a more intricate picture.
Mouth cancer deaths have risen significantly in Ohio, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, North Carolina, Iowa, Maine, and North Dakota.
Common risk factors for mouth cancer include alcohol consumption, tobacco smoking, human papillomavirus (HPV), and chewing betel quid (natural ingredients wrapped in a betel leaf, common in some parts of Southeast Asia).
Mouth cancer deaths are most common in India, affecting men aged 30–69 years old. Scientists think that chewing betel quid could be responsible for many of these deaths.
Air pollution- The New Threat for mouth cancer
Researchers have confirmed a risk factor for developing mouth cancer – air pollution.
The results of the study was published in the Journal of Investigative Medicine., funded by the Ministry of Science and Technology in Taiwan.
The research team concentrated their study on the impact of fine particulate matter, also known as PM2.5. These are particles of liquid or solid matter that measure 2.5 micrometers in diameter or under.
Researchers already knew that PM2.5 has a negative impact on cardiovascular and respiratory health, but they wanted to find out whether exposure to higher levels of PM2.5 might increase the risk of mouth cancer.
The team gathered information from 482,659 men aged 40 years old or above, and all participants had attended health services and given information about smoking and chewing betel quid.
The researchers also collected data from 66 air quality-monitoring stations across Taiwan. The scientists could evaluate each person’s exposure to PM2.5 by simply referring to the health records of the participants.
Threat increased by 43 percent
The researchers collected the data in 2012–2013 and about 1,617 men developed mouth cancer during this period which was caused by both tobacco smoking and chewing betel quid.
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The researchers established that exposure to PM2.5 also increased mouth cancer risk after taking a range of influencing factors into consideration.
The scientists compared PM2.5 levels of below 26.74 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3) with those above 40.37 ug/m3. They connected the higher levels of PM2.5 with a 43 percent increase in the risk of developing mouth cancer.
“This study, with a large sample size, is the first to associate mouth cancer with PM2.5. […] These findings add to the growing evidence on the adverse effects of PM2.5 on human health,” the research team stated.
The team also identified a correlation between higher levels of ozone and an increased risk of developing mouth cancer.
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The next challenge will be to understand how particulate matter might cause mouth cancer. Although this will require more detailed studies, some theorize that carcinogenic compounds found in PM2.5, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heavy metals, might be part of the answer.
The researchers warned that this is an observational study, so it cannot conclusively prove that pollution causes mouth cancer. Also, it is not clear exactly how much PM2.5 enters the mouth.
The study still needs further investigation, but the large size of this research makes their deductions worth looking into promptly.