February is American Heart Month. To honor it and make the case for how environmental laws lead to improved public health, the EPA created a new Public Service Announcement (PSA) about how air pollution affects heart health aimed at patients and health care providers. It highlights research that has shown that air pollution (especially small particulate matter found in vehicular exhaust) can trigger heart attacks and strokes, and worsen heart conditions, especially in the one-in-three Americans who live with heart disease. The new PSA advises people with heart disease to check the daily, color-coded Air Quality Index forecast and adjust their outdoor activities accordingly. These forecasts are available for more than 400 cities.
On the indoor or personal air quality front (or that air envelope we pass through when entering buildings that ban smoking), a recent study linked the incidence of breast cancer in young women with smoking. Researchers found that women between 20 and 44 years old who smoked a pack of cigarettes per day for at least 10 years were 60% more likely than those who smoked less to develop estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer. (In contrast, these smokers were not more likely to develop a less common but more aggressive form of breast cancer known as triple-negative breast cancer.) Previous research has found links between smoking and breast cancer, but the study of breast cancer in younger women has produced conflicting results. This new study questions whether smoking is linked to an increased risk of some types of breast cancer but not others. “I think there is a growing appreciation that breast cancer is not just one disease and there are many different subtypes,” said Dr. Christopher Li, the study author. “In this study, we were able to look at the different molecular subtypes and how smoking affects them.” When analyzing how smoking could specifically affect cancer development, Li and his colleagues hypothesize that some substances found in cigarettes may act like estrogens, which would promote estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer: “There are so many different chemicals in cigarette smoke that can have so many kinds of effects.”
According to the National Cancer Institute, about one in every eight American women will eventually develop breast cancer. The American Lung Association reports that women are catching up to men in terms of smoking rates. Putting these two facts together underscores the importance of Li’s study.