Lung Cancer and Pollution Linked in New Study

Last year, Cancer Research UK funded research that showed how exposure to polluted air can lead to lung cancer in non-smokers. According to the study conducted by University College London or UCL and the Francis Crick Institute, cancer-causing mutations often develop inside the lungs when a person is exposed to air pollution.

Research lead Professor Charles Swanton presented the findings of the long-term study at the ESMO conference in September 2020. Researchers focused on discovering new treatments for cancer by analysing and understanding how cancer develops over time in the lungs. 

While smoking is considered the most significant lung cancer risk worldwide, almost 6,000 non-smoking UK residents die yearly because of the disease. Additionally, exposure to toxic air can lead to adverse health conditions, such as COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, dementia, asthma, and cardiovascular illnesses. Air pollution is also linked to around 1 in 10 lung cancer cases in the United Kingdom.

Another aspect that researchers also focused on is PM2.5, which is linked to inflammation inside the lungs. Inflammation increases the chances of developing cancer, which makes the air pollution issue very concerning. 

Undertaking the research also allowed the researchers to use their findings to come up with more efficient and stringent ways to prevent lung cancer in non-smokers. Professor Swanton and his team are confident that if they could stop cell growth caused by toxic air, they can also lower lung cancer risk, especially for those who have never smoked their entire lives.

How the research was conducted

Professor Swanton and his team analysed an EGFR or epidermal growth factor mutant lung cancer. Data used came from more than 400,000 respondents in Asian countries and the UK. They compared EGFR mutant lung cancer in places with varying amounts of PM2.5 pollution. 

Researchers discovered that in areas with various PM2.5 levels, the EGFR rates were significantly higher. Co-author Dr Emilia Lim emphasised the importance of this discovery when she said that even the slightest changes in toxic air levels can already have an impact on human health. She also mentioned that almost 100% of the global population resides in areas with PM2.5 levels that are over the World Health Organization’s (WHO) legal limits. 

In addition to the human respondents, researchers also tested EGFR mutations on mice. 

A significant development in the course of the study was when researchers discovered a way to block a molecule that causes inflammation. 


A big chunk of the dirty air mentioned in the research comes from vehicle or road transport emissions. Diesel vehicles, in particular, release toxic emissions, including nitrogen oxide or NOx, a group of highly reactive gases that include nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and nitric oxide (NO).

NOx started hogging the spotlight in 2015, after the Dieselgate scandal involving the Volkswagen Group first broke. United States authorities sent the German carmaker a notice of violation as illegal defeat devices were allegedly found in Audi and Volkswagen diesel vehicles sold in the American market.

A defeat device is programmed to sense when a vehicle is inside the lab for regulatory tests. Once it does, it temporarily suppresses emissions to within the WHO’s mandated limits. The vehicle appears emissions-compliant but, as the suppression is only temporary, this clean state is only true during testing conditions. When the vehicle is driven on real roads, it goes back to emitting huge amounts of NOx. Thus, if proven by the courts, VW, in effect, lied to their customers when they sold the vehicle as eco-friendly even when they emitted dangerous levels of NOx. 

Authorities ordered VW to recall the thousands of vehicles affected by the defeat devices. The carmaker has also been paying off fines, fees, and compensation. To date, the payoffs have cost them billions.

Volkswagen is not the only carmaker involved in the diesel emissions scandal; there are other manufacturers as well. Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Vauxhall have all been implicated as well.

What makes emissions dangerous?

Nitrogen oxide or NOx make vehicle emissions dangerous.

Exposure to NOx emissions has adverse health impacts, including dementia, asthma, and respiratory ailments such as bronchitis and emphysema. Serious health effects are chronic lung function reduction, cancer, cardiovascular illnesses, and early death.

Air pollution is a silent killer and accounts for most of the thousands of early deaths around the world, and most of this comes from vehicle emissions. It has become more dangerous than cigarette smoking, drugs, and alcohol.

Manufacturers should pay off their customers as compensation for the inconveniences caused by defeat devices, as well as for the lies that they told car owners. A diesel claim will bring carmakers to court.

How should I move forward with my diesel claim?

All you have to do to bring a diesel claim against your carmaker is to work with an emissions expert. You can also join a GLO or group litigation order (similar to the US class-action lawsuit). 

First off, though, you’ll need to have your eligibility to file a claim verified. Visit to get all the information you need.

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