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EPA Data Links Environment and Cancer Rates

by Staff Contributor on May 11, 2017
Lifestyle

It comes as no surprise to anyone nowadays that particular harmful exposures—such as to radon, pesticides and air pollution—have the ability to intensify specific cancer risks in a city or region. Independent of such, new research reveals that the general quality of the environment of a geographic location is another factor that is linked to its overall cancer incidence.

Counties within the US with the poorest environmental quality rating had a mean of 37 additional cancer cases per 100,000 citizens than counties with the highest rating over the period in which the study took place, from 2000 to 2010, according to the authors of the report, which was led by Jyotsna S. Jagai, PhD, MPH, from the University of Illinois, Chicago.

“Research focusing on single environmental exposures in cancer development may not address the broader environmental context in which cancers develop,” note the authors.

Their new study is strongly founded upon data from the currently beleaguered US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and was published on May 8th in Cancer.

The team leading the study also displayed that certain cancers can be related to overall environmental conditions. The report has particularly proven the strong positive correlation between poor environmental quality and the risk of prostate and breast cancer.

In this study, the researchers employed a new apparatus, the Environmental Quality Index (EQI), which measures US county-level exposures in the domains of air, water, built environment, land and socioeconomics. The EQI incorporates data that spans from 2000 to 2005 and is a data source directly from the EPA that’s made available to the general public. Two of the authors of the study are employees of the EPA, in fact.

The researchers related EQI to county level, age-adjusted annual cancer incidence rates from Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results program state cancer profiles. These rates were obtainable for 85% of the total counties within the nation. The investigators analyzed the incidence rates for “all-site” cancer, as well as for the top three cancers by sex.

The EQI was ascribed for each county based on the data from the years 2000 to 2005. The team also analyzes the relationships between the EQI and the cancer incidence rates from 2006 to 2010 in order to allow for a certain amount of lag time in disease development.

Among other points of comparison and study, the leaders of the research compared the cancer rates in the highest and lowest environmental quality quintiles.

In an associated editorial, an assemblage of four experts state that “more than 30 cases of cancer per 100,000 persons per year…could be avoided if environmental quality were improved from the worst to the best quintile.”

Independent of this, the latest discoveries do not take into consideration the impact of confounders (including alcohol use and overweight) and other factors, such as contesting causes of death, clarify the editorialists, led by Scarlett Lin Gomez, PhD. Gomez is from the Cancer Prevention Institute of California, located in Fremont.

Study author Dr Jagai affirmed to Medscape Medical News that the design of the study was contemplated in a manner which sought to adjust for county-level percentage of the populace that ever smoked.

“This is the best we can do for this type of analysis since we are considering county-level incidence and do not have individual-level information,” she explained.

The editorialists also emphasized that links between environmental quality and cancer incidence were most distinct and noticeable in counties with a greater degree of urbanization, as well as for the air, sociodemographic, and built environment domains.

Research that was done previously has displayed that cancer health discrepancies exist geographically, according to the editorialists. The new study contributes to the escalating comprehension of this spectacle by paying particular attention to the analysis of the domains in which these gaps are observed, they affirm. The hope is that policymakers will target precise regions and environmental factors to decrease the cancer burden of an area, they continue on.

The editorialists are hopeful that data for this kind of analysis, which is known as geospatial research, continues to be accessible to researchers.

Dr Gomez and colleagues are troubled regarding the intentions to “suppress the federal collection of geospatial data.” Legislation in the US Congress, including H.R.482 and companion bill S.103, were introduced this past January. The bills, which are entitled Local Zoning Decisions Protection Act of 2017, “aim to nullify fair housing regulations,” they state. The editorialists cite the bill, which declares, “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no Federal funds may be used to design, build, maintain, utilize, or provide access to a Federal database of geospatial information on community racial disparities or disparities in access to affordable housing.”

Why would anyone want to suppress this data source? “I’m really not sure, and don’t feel that I can speculate on the possible reasons,” Dr Gomez opined to Medscape Medical News.

A larger related concern is the intention of H.R.861, which looks to end the EPA, the editorialists underline.

However, Dr Jagai and colleagues continue with their geospatial research at the moment, utilizing EPA data for such.

“All the coauthors [from the current study] are still at EPA. I am still working with this team and we are still using the EQI to conduct other research on the impact of cumulative environmental exposures on health outcomes,” she declared.

Featured Image via Wikimedia.

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Staff Contributor
Born and raised New Yorker with foreign parents; aftermaths include: having the tendency to switch languages mid-sentence, an endless stock of funny stories (normally founded on cultural/linguistic misunderstanding), a love of travel and reading, an excessive amount of curiosity (not nosy, just intrigued!), a sincere appreciation for food and coffee, and the ability to react to just about any situation with an infectious bout of laughter.
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