Outdoor air pollution and cancer: An overview of the current evidence and public health recommendations

Michelle C. Turner, Zorana J. Andersen, Andrea Baccarelli, W. Ryan Diver, Susan M. Gapstur, C. Arden Pope, Diddier Prada, Jonathan Samet, George Thurston, Aaron Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

393 Scopus citations


Outdoor air pollution is a major contributor to the burden of disease worldwide. Most of the global population resides in places where air pollution levels, because of emissions from industry, power generation, transportation, and domestic burning, considerably exceed the World Health Organization's health-based air-quality guidelines. Outdoor air pollution poses an urgent worldwide public health challenge because it is ubiquitous and has numerous serious adverse human health effects, including cancer. Currently, there is substantial evidence from studies of humans and experimental animals as well as mechanistic evidence to support a causal link between outdoor (ambient) air pollution, and especially particulate matter (PM) in outdoor air, with lung cancer incidence and mortality. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of lung cancer deaths annually worldwide are attributable to PM air pollution. Epidemiological evidence on outdoor air pollution and the risk of other types of cancer, such as bladder cancer or breast cancer, is more limited. Outdoor air pollution may also be associated with poorer cancer survival, although further research is needed. This report presents an overview of outdoor air pollutants, sources, and global levels, as well as a description of epidemiological evidence linking outdoor air pollution with cancer incidence and mortality. Biological mechanisms of air pollution-derived carcinogenesis are also described. This report concludes by summarizing public health/policy recommendations, including multilevel interventions aimed at individual, community, and regional scales. Specific roles for medical and health care communities with regard to prevention and advocacy and recommendations for further research are also described.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)460-479
Number of pages20
JournalCa-A Cancer Journal for Clinicians
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • breast cancer
  • cancer survival
  • lung cancer
  • particulate matter


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