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Key Action 4 : Environment and Health
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Environment and cancer

Across the EU, cancer is responsible for one death in four.
Genetic susceptibility contributes to cancer, but so do lifestyle and environmental factors such as tobacco smoking, diet, exposure to chemical carcinogens or ultravioletradiation.
Environment and cancer
Case Studies

The environment and lymphomas

Saving your skin

Some carcinogens directly alter the genes of living cells. Others act indirectly, notably by generating highly reactive chemical species that wreak havoc on the body when they exceed its capacity to 'mop them up' – this is called 'oxidative stress'. Ultraviolet (UV) light targets multiple molecules in living tissues, including DNA. Harmful to the eyes, skin, and immune system, it is a major cause of skin cancer. UV can also react with diverse chemicals, potentially turning harmless ones into carcinogens.

Under Key Action 4, researchers aim to identify carcinogenic environmental factors, to explain how they exert their effects, to detect early signs of exposure and oxidative stress, and to develop and evaluate strategies for countering carcinogenic processes before they lead to cancer.

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Case Studies

The environment and lymphomas

The Epilymph project(1) is focusing on a group of cancers called lymphomas which affect various types of blood cells. These cancers are the fifth most frequent cancer type in the EU, and their incidence is rising. The study addresses the question: do certain environmental factors contribute to causing these cancers and their increasing incidence?

Epilymph is recruiting over 3 000 cases and a group of comparable controls for a study based in eight European countries, which will explore whether agents such as solar UV radiation, pesticides, and solvents contribute to causing this type of cancer. The influence of any previous illness and medical treatment will also be examined. Exposure assessments are made on the basis of personal medical, job and residetial history, diet, smoking and alcohol consumption, sun exposure, and the use of certain beauty products. Blood sample analyses will reveal the presence of specific pesticide-related compounds.

(1) Environmental Exposures and Lymphoid neoplasms: QLK4-1999-01470

Dr Paul Brennan
International Agency for Research on Cancer (FR)
brennan@iarc.fr

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Case Studies

Saving your skin

With depletion of the ozone layer and the increasing popularity of skiing and sunbathing, we are becoming increasingly exposed to UV radiation, the major harmful component of sunlight. Preventive intervention is the ultimate goal of a project(2) focusing on UV-inflicted damage to the skin. The idea is to see whether the oxidative stress caused by UV radiation can be countered with dietary antioxidants.

Partners are developing biomarkers for measuring oxidative stress. These markers are being developed in cultured cells and will be validated in biopsies of both normal and UV-exposed skin. Parallel studies will be undertaken on potentially protective antioxidants, to establish what happens to them when they are digested and in what form they accumulate in the skin. Their ability to counter oxidative stress will be tested by means of the validated biomarkers.

(2) New biomarkers of oxidative stress to humans: a role in developing new strategies for human protection against environmental (UVA) damage to skin: QLK4-1999-01590.

Professor Rex Tyrrell
University of Bath (UK)
prsrmt@bath.ac.uk

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