A team at Francis Crick Institute has had a breakthrough discovery regarding how air pollution impacts our body - specifically, how air pollution leads to cancer. The research uncovered how air pollution leads to cancer, but it could also have big implications for other forms of cancer.
For a long period, we’ve believed that cancer is caused by a healthy cell that has acquired mutations over time. These mutations impact the DNA in the cell, and at a point, the cell becomes harmful and begins to grow into cancer. However, despite our belief that cancer is formed this way, it hasn’t explained the full story.
For example, mutations can be found in healthy tissue. Perhaps more importantly, some substances that cause cancer don’t change people’s cell DNA. Air pollution is in this category - while it’s known to cause cancer, it doesn’t change DNA. With the classic view of cancer, this was unexplainable.
The Francis Crick Institute team discovered this when studying how non-smokers can get lung cancer. Their studies discovered that potentially cancerous damage to our cell DNA is already present - however, it doesn’t become cancerous until an external factor pulls the trigger.
The study focused on PM2.5 and found that the fine particles cause a release of a chemical alarm once they reach our lungs. This chemical alarm is the activation that potentially cancerous cells need to become cancerous.
While this study's implications are massive regarding air pollution - it explains how non-smokers can get lung cancers - it could also have life-altering implications in other cancer research. It’s possible that cancers can be prevented from forming by drugs capable of blocking the alarm signals in our bodies.