Link between oxygen and cancer?

15 January 2015

A new study, published in the journal PeerJ, has stated that elements of oxygen metabolism could promote cancer growth. 

Focusing on the inverse relationship between oxygen concentration with elevation, researchers found lower rates of lung cancer at higher elevations. This trend did not extend to non-respiratory cancers, suggesting that exposure to carcinogen - which has been linked to cancer risk -  occurs through inhalation.

Lung cancer is still a major killer and, while smoking can be linked to up to 90 per cent of cases, the new study suggests that atmospheric oxygen may also play a role.

Even when consumed by cells, oxygen is highly reactive and results in reactive oxygen species (ROS), which can lead to cellular damage and mutation. Although it represents more than a fifth of the overall atmosphere, lower pressure at higher elevations results in less inhaled oxygen.  

To determine whether inhaled oxygen could be a human carcinogen, researchers compared cancer incidence rates across counties in the US where elevation varies. They found that, as elevation increased, lung cancer incidence decreased. 

The authors hope additional studies will focus on oxygen's role in human carcinogenesis. 

Posted by ​Phillip Briggs 


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