Lung cancer death rate up in Europe despite increase in cancer deaths, study says

Europe has seen an increase in lung cancer deaths but not a decrease in cancer overall, according to a WHO study released Tuesday.

That’s because human-made pollutants in the air from cars, fires and industrial processes cause more lung cancer deaths than any other carcinogen, the WHO said in a statement.

The 2017 study determined that there was an increase in lung cancer in Europe and an overall increase in cancer deaths in the region that has now increased by 6.8 percent compared to 2016, from 301,600 to 334,300. The increase was equal to about 2,400 deaths each year.

The number of cancer deaths has been rising across Europe for the past three decades, said Marselha Gonçalves, head of the WHO European Department of Cancer Prevention and Control.

And as the population ages, more people are living with cancer and with poor health, Gonçalves said.

“The increase in deaths was higher in people with less education, lower socio-economic status and smoking,” she said. “Smoking is associated with an increased risk of cancer, but tobacco alone cannot explain the majority of the increase in lung cancer.”

Those harmful cancers include lung cancer, which is the most common cancer in Europe, with approximately 201,700 new cases in 2017, according to the data. Other types include breast, pancreatic, liver and brain cancer.

WHO declined to say whether the increase in lung cancer was due to emissions from cars, factories and power plants, which have been found to increase mortality from cancer. The world’s air is increasingly fouled by air pollution, in addition to the greenhouse gases that come from car emissions.

A separate study by researchers at Dartmouth Medical School earlier this year found that the amount of deadly air pollution in the US has spiked in the past several years.

The data showed that air pollution levels had soared almost eight times faster in the US from 2009 to 2017, leading the World Health Organization to designate the US a “non-cooperative country” for climate-related pollutants.

Some US cities, like Chicago, have implemented aggressive pollution controls and incentivized cleaner fuels to promote clean energy.

However, officials from some US states have also challenged the report and say the focus on emissions is skewed. The Association of American State and Local Environmental Offices, an association of state and local environmental departments, said in a statement that “science and facts” show that “sources of greenhouse gases are not the problem.”

They, in turn, pointed to increased natural gas production and an increase in alternative energy technology to point to as an alternative to heavy industry emissions.

“The cleaner energy sources that will save lives don’t emit any emissions at all,” the group said in a statement.

A Harvard study published last month found that exposure to outdoor air pollution is linked to a dramatically lower life expectancy in the US, contributing to more than 400,000 premature deaths a year.

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