Journal Article

Air pollution and cancer: biomarker studies in human populations†

Paolo Vineis and Kirsti Husgafvel-Pursiainen

in Carcinogenesis

Volume 26, issue 11, pages 1846-1855
Published in print November 2005 | ISSN: 0143-3334
Published online August 2005 | e-ISSN: 1460-2180 | DOI:
Air pollution and cancer: biomarker studies in human populations†

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  • Clinical Cytogenetics and Molecular Genetics


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Large cohort studies in the U.S. and in Europe suggest that air pollution may increase lung cancer risk. Biomarkers can be useful to understand the mechanisms and to characterize high-risk groups. Here we describe biomarkers of exposure, in particular DNA adducts as well as markers of early damage, including mutagenicity, other endpoints of genotoxicity and molecular biomarkers of cancer. Several studies found an association between external measures of exposure to air pollution and increased levels of DNA adducts, with an apparent levelling-off of the dose–response relationship. Also, numerous experimental studies in vitro and in vivo have provided unambiguous evidence for genotoxicity of air pollution. In addition, due to the organic extracts of particulate matter [especially various polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) compounds], particulate air pollution induces oxidative damage to DNA. The experimental work, combined with the data on frequent oxidative DNA damage in lymphocytes in people exposed to urban air pollution, suggests 8-oxo-dG as one of the important promutagenic lesions. Lung cancer develops through a series of progressive pathological changes occurring in the respiratory epithelium. Molecular alterations such as loss of heterozygosity, gene mutations and aberrant gene promoter methylation have emerged as potentially promising molecular biomarkers of lung carcinogenesis. Data from such studies relevant for emissions rich in PAHs are also summarized, although the exposure circumstances are not directly relevant to outdoor air pollution, in order to shed light on potential mechanisms of air pollution-related carcinogenesis.

Keywords: B(a)P, benzo[a]pyrene; PAH, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Journal Article.  8444 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Clinical Cytogenetics and Molecular Genetics

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