Air pollution and cancer — What are opportunities for addressing air pollution in public health, research and community settings, and what roles can clinicians play?


Introduction: A systems approach for integrating environmental chemicals in cancer prevention.

  • Polly Hoppin, ScD - UMass Lowell, Lowell Center for Sustainable Production and Cancer Free Economy Network slides


  • David Christiani, MD, MS, MPH - Mass General Hospital and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
    • What we know about air pollution and cancer: science and interventions to reduce exposures. slides
  • Judy Ou, PhD, MPH - Huntsman Cancer Institute, University of Utah
    • Effect of air pollution on mortality and morbidity among young cancer survivors. slides
  • Mary White, ScD - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Division of Cancer Prevention and Control
    • A comprehensive approach to cancer prevention and air pollution: tools and resources that public health can provide. slides
  • Roseann Bongiovanni, MPH - Executive Director, Chelsea Green Roots
    • Disproportionately Impacted: Air Pollution and Health in Chelsea - Community-level strategies to reduce air pollution and how clinicians and researchers can help. slides

Panel: Panelists will offer their perspectives on the speakers’ presentations, followed by discussion.

Moderator: Polly Hoppin

  • Gwen Collman, PhD - Senior Advisor to the Director, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
    • What are we learning from community-based participatory research, and what do we need to know to intervene on risk factors like air pollution?
  • Narjust Duma, MD - Thoracic oncologist and Associate Director of the Cancer Care Equity Program, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
    • Understanding the bigger picture: How to be an advocate for your patient.
  • Ned Ketyer, MD, FAAP - Pediatrician, Physicians for Social Responsibility
    • A pediatrician’s experience serving as both clinician and influential voice in community-level and policy debates. 


Air pollution and its components are important risk factors for cancers in themselves, and also are case studies in the challenges and opportunities of preventing hazardous exposures when doing so is largely beyond the control of the individual.  Speakers encouraged systems thinking as a foundation for collaborations that can reduce environmental carcinogens at the population level. They reviewed the strong science linking air pollution and its components—both particulate matter and many other hazardous chemicals—with cancer, and noted that while air quality is improving across the US, some places continue to experience high levels of air pollution and associated cancer risk. One such region is in Salt Lake City, where studies of young cancer survivors suggest that exposure to air pollution increases risk of illness and prognosis for young cancer patients.

Other speakers signaled the CDC’s encouragement of states to integrate pollution prevention into cancer prevention strategies, and resources available to do so. The final speaker described the disproportionate impacts of air pollution in the city of Chelsea, Massachusetts; strategies of the community organization she leads to reduce exposures; and lessons learned about how clinicians and researchers can be effective partners in community-based participatory research. The session concluded with reflections by three leaders—one from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences; the second a thoracic oncologist who leads a center focused on equity in cancer care at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and the third from a pediatrician who has integrated advocacy for population-level health-protective practices and policies with his clinical practice—and a vibrant Q & A discussion.

Additional Materials

Session 2 recording

Q&A and resources


Forum Overview

Session 1

Session 3