Air Pollution and Breast Cancer Risk: What Postmenopausal Women Need to Know

Breast cancer is a significant health concern affecting women worldwide, and researchers are continuously working to understand the factors that may contribute to its development. A recent study by Carmen Smotherman and team from University of Florida, USA, has investigated the possible link between air pollution and postmenopausal breast cancer risk. Let’s explore the findings of this study in simple language to understand what it means for women’s health.

The Study

The study focused on 155,235 postmenopausal women, of which 6,146 had breast cancer, and all were part of the UK Biobank. The researchers collected data on air pollution exposure and cancer diagnoses through the UK National Health Service Central Registers. They analyzed air pollution measures for various years, including nitrogen dioxide (NO2) from 2005 to 2010, particulate matter (PM10) in 2007 and 2010, and fine particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen oxides (NOX), PM2.5-10, and PM2.5 absorbance in 2010. Additionally, the study collected information on breast cancer risk factors at the beginning of the research.

The Results

The researchers discovered that there was a positive association between PM10 in 2007 and the cumulative average PM10 with postmenopausal breast cancer risk. This means that women exposed to higher levels of PM10 during the year 2007 and over a longer period had a slightly increased risk of developing breast cancer compared to those with lower exposure levels.

To put it simply, the study found that exposure to higher levels of PM10 air pollution, particularly in 2007, might be linked to a slightly higher risk of breast cancer for postmenopausal women. However, it’s important to understand that the increased risk is relatively small and doesn’t guarantee that someone will develop breast cancer.

Other Air Pollution Measures

Apart from PM10, the study also looked at other air pollution measures like NO2, PM2.5, NOX, PM2.5-10, and PM2.5 absorbance. However, the researchers did not find significant associations between these measures and postmenopausal breast cancer risk.

The Importance of 2-Year Exposure Lag

In addition to the annual exposure averages, the study also examined the effects of a 2-year exposure lag. This means that they analyzed the association between air pollution exposure from two years ago and the risk of breast cancer in the present. Interestingly, the results showed that both PM10 in 2007 and cumulative average PM10 remained positively associated with breast cancer risk even when considering this 2-year lag.

What Do These Findings Mean?

It’s essential to interpret these findings in the context of broader health considerations. While the study suggests a potential link between PM10 exposure and postmenopausal breast cancer risk, it’s important to remember that air pollution is only one of many factors that can influence cancer development. Genetics, lifestyle choices, diet, and other environmental factors also play vital roles.

The study’s results highlight the importance of addressing air pollution as a public health concern. Reducing air pollution levels, especially those related to PM10, could have broader health benefits beyond breast cancer risk reduction, as air pollution is associated with various respiratory and cardiovascular conditions.

Limitations of the Study

As with any research, there are some limitations to consider. The study primarily relied on data from the UK Biobank, which may not fully represent the diverse populations in other regions. Additionally, while the study adjusted for known breast cancer risk factors, there may still be other factors not accounted for that could influence the results.


In conclusion, this study provides valuable insights into the potential link between air pollution, particularly PM10, and postmenopausal breast cancer risk. The findings suggest that exposure to higher levels of PM10 in 2007 and over the long term may be associated with a slightly increased risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.

However, it’s essential to remember that this is just one study, and more research is needed to confirm and understand this relationship better. As we continue to learn more about breast cancer and its risk factors, it’s crucial to focus on overall health and well-being, including adopting a healthy lifestyle, staying physically active, and seeking regular medical check-ups.

Furthermore, addressing air pollution as a society remains a significant public health challenge. By working together to reduce air pollution levels, we can promote a cleaner and healthier environment for everyone.


DOI: 10.1186/s13058-023-01681-w

Photo by Susan G. Komen 3-Day on Unsplash

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