A new study has shown an association between exposure to harmful environmental factors and cancer incidence.

Researchers in the US have investigated the effects of overall environmental quality across multiple domains - including air, water, and land quality; sociodemographic environment; and built environment - using county-level measures of cumulative environmental exposures, combined with cancer incidence rates form existing surveys.

The average annual incidence rate for all types of cancer was 451 cases per 100,000 people, while the study found areas with poor environmental quality demonstrated a higher incidence of cancer cases - on average 39 more cases per 100,000 people - than counties with high environmental quality.

Increased rates were seen for both males and females, with prostate and breast cancer demonstrating the strongest positive associations with poor environmental quality.

“Our study is the first we are aware of to address the impact of cumulative environmental exposures on cancer incidence,” said lead researcher Dr Jyotsna Jagai.

“This work helps support the idea that all of the exposures we experience affect our health, and underscores the potential for social and environmental improvements to positively impact health outcomes.

Dr Jagai noted that research has traditionally focused on individual environmental exposures, which is important for understanding specific mechanisms that can cause disease, however, cancer development is dependent on the totality of exposures people face, including social stressors.

“Therefore, we must consider the overall environment that one is exposed to in order to understand the potential risk for cancer development,” she said.

The study is accessible here.