Air pollution and cancer: biomarker studies in human populations

Carcinogenesis. 2005 Nov;26(11):1846-55. doi: 10.1093/carcin/bgi216. Epub 2005 Aug 25.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Air Pollutants / blood
  • Air Pollutants / urine
  • Air Pollution / adverse effects*
  • Air Pollution / analysis
  • Biomarkers / analysis*
  • Environmental Illness / chemically induced
  • Environmental Illness / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • Mutagens / adverse effects
  • Mutagens / analysis
  • Mutation
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / adverse effects
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / blood
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / urine
  • Polymorphism, Genetic


  • Air Pollutants
  • Biomarkers
  • Mutagens
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons