Levels of air pollutants are associated with the incidence of lung cancer, according to a study presented at the American Association for Thoracic Surgery (AATS) Annual Meeting.

Data revealed that reductions in air pollutants coincided with reductions in lung cancer incidence in Wayne County, Michigan. The strongest relationship between lung cancer incidence and a pollutant was seen with sulfur dioxide (SO2).

The data for patients included in this study were obtained from the Michigan Cancer Surveillance Program from 1985 to 2018. Air quality data were collected from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1980 to 2021. 

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A total of 58,866 patients were evaluated. Their mean age was 67.8 years, 57% were men, 62% were White, 37.2% were Black, and 0.8% were other races. Patients had distant (48.4%), regional (20.0%), or localized (17.3%) lung cancer.

The researchers calculated the maximum percentage of the population at risk for lung cancer and identified 7 significant clusters in Wayne County. The majority of these clusters were in downtown Detroit and in the heavily industrialized area downriver from the Detroit River, which flows into Lake Erie. 

Lung cancer incidence decreased over the study period. At the same time, there were decreases in SO2, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, nitrous dioxide, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). 

The researchers used the Autoregressive Distributed Lag Model (ARDL) to identify relationships between air pollutants and lung cancer incidence. ARDL bound testing results demonstrated that lung cancer and SO2 levels correlated with at least 1 cointegration (F-statistic = 6.44>I(0)). In contrast, there was no relationship between VOCs and the incidence of lung cancer. 

Though this study had limitations, the researchers concluded that air pollutants were associated with lung cancer incidence in this county, and SO2 had the strongest relationship to lung cancer incidence over time. 


Hutchings H, Zhang Q, Grady S, et al. Association of air quality with incidence of lung cancer in a large urban/suburban county. AATS 2023. May 6-9, 2023. Abstract 19.