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Cancer and the environment: a critical review by Roberto Cazzolla Gatti

After analyzing 300 studies conducted in the last 30 years, KLI fellow Roberto Cazzolla Gatti's critical review has now been published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. "Why we will continue to lose our battle with cancers if we do not stop their triggers from environmental pollution" sheds light on the connection between the environment and cancer.

Cancer is a longer-lasting and even more dramatic "pandemic" than the current COVID-19, one that affects almost a third of the human population worldwide. Most of the emphasis on its causes, however, has been put on genetic predisposition, chance, and problematic lifestyles (mainly, obesity and smoking). Furthermore, our medical weapons against cancers have not improved too much during the last century, although research is in progress. Once diagnosed with a malignant tumour, we still rely on surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy.

The main problem is that we have focused on fighting a difficult battle instead of preventing it by controlling its triggers. Contrasted with the slow progress in cancer treatment, our knowledge of the links between environmental pollution and cancer has surged since the 1980s. Carcinogens in water, air, and soil have continued to accumulate disproportionally and grow in number and dose, bringing us to today’s carnage.

Roberto's review proposes a synthesis and critical review of the state of the knowledge of the links between cancer and environmental pollution in three environmental compartments (water, air, and soil) and indicates research gaps are briefly discussed, and some future directions. New evidence suggests that it is relevant to take into account not only the dose but also the time when we are exposed to carcinogens.

The review ends by stressing that more dedication should be put into studying the environmental causes of cancers to prevent instead of merely curing them after the illness spreads. Furthermore, we should shift from a precautionary approach towards environmental pollutants to become much more reactionary. To fight cancer, there is an urgent need to leave behind the outdated petrochemical-based industry-and-goods mode of production.

Given the public utility and importance of the information, the KLI has supported its open access fees so that it can be downloaded for free here. We are proud that we were able to enable the intellectual freedom of Roberto to explore connections between the different fields of science during his stay at the KLI.




Cazzolla Gatti R. Why We Will Continue to Lose Our Battle with Cancers If We Do Not Stop Their Triggers from Environmental Pollution. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2021; 18(11):6107.

edited by Lynn Chiu