Azara Blog: Air pollution in cities allegedly causes greater risk of getting breast cancer

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Date published: 2007/11/27

The BBC says:

Women living and working in the city have a higher risk of breast cancer, researchers say.

The study of 972 women by London's private Princess Grace Hospital found city women had much denser breasts.

Previous research has shown those with the densest breast were four times more likely to develop cancer.

Researchers, presenting the study to the Radiological Society of North America, said air pollution was likely to be the cause of denser breasts.

It is thought air pollution contains tiny particles that mimic female sex hormones and can disrupt the make up of breasts.
But Professor Stephen Duffy, Cancer Research UK's professor of screening, said the findings may be related to weight.

"The Health Survey for England found that women living in London were the thinnest in the country, and breast density is known to be inversely related to body weight."

But he added whatever the reasons, the study did demonstrate the need for careful attention to breast screening as "greater breast density makes mammography a more challenging job".

The researchers have made the classic mistake of confusing correlation and causation. All they have found is a correlation, but all health researchers like to trumpet an alleged causation, so what better cause this time than air pollution. We all know that air pollution is bad, so anyone can say anything about it causing some problem or other and pretty much nobody will pick them up on it. Here, though, Duffy has found an alternative possibility, and no doubt there are zillions of other possibilities (e.g. women in cities are probably more stressed, and stress is also correlated with, and might even somewhat cause, ill health; and stress is more likely to be linked to the rat race and to the high population density in cities than to air pollution).

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