Breathing Oxygen Causes Cancer ?


Oxygen Causes Cancer

Where you need to go to reduce lung cancer rates

Does taking a deep breath put you at a greater risk for cancer? Research published in PeerJ journal concludes that oxygen causes cancer.

Almost anything in this world is poisonous. The dose determines how much it takes to kill you. Even water is dangerous if you drink enough of it. Drinking large amounts over a short period disrupts the salt balance in your body causing brain swelling which actually can kill you. New research published in PeerJ journal finds that not even the air we breathe is safe, the study concludes that oxygen causes cancer.

Oxygen Causes Cancer ?

Lung cancer will claim 159,260 lives 2014 in the US. Though most of these cancers are diagnosed in smokers 10-15% of affected people have never smoked. Getting cancer, or not, depends on many factors. Exposure to carcinogens, genetics and fine particulate can all increase the risk of the disease. Oxygen itself is also dangerous. The stuff we breathe forms reactive oxygen species (ROS) a highly reactive substance damaging cells causing mutation and inflammation, known risk factors of cancer.

Oxygen levels on the planet isn’t constant, it varies with elevation. At higher elevations the atmosphere gets thinner, there’s less oxygen to breathe. From the imperial county in California (-11m) to San Juan County, Colorado (3473m) oxygen decreases 34.9%. This also means that height differences between counties provide excellent test groups to compare in order to find differences in cancer rates.

To investigate cancer rates researchers compared lung cancer rates between counties with varying elevation in the western US. They found that as elevation increase lung cancer rates decrease. The effect wasn’t small either. For every 1000 m higher you get, cancer cases decreases by 7.23 cases per 100,000 individuals. A 13% reduction compared to mean lung cancer rates (56.8 cases per 100,000 individuals). Over all counties investigated researchers found 25.2% fewer lung cancer cases in counties at higher elevations.

Was this caused by the elevation or some other factor?

To investigate this, researchers looked at many variables in addition to oxygen levels that could explain the lower cancer rates. Comparing difference in demographics, smokers  and education as well as a slew of other factors like fine particulate pollution, sunlight and radon exposure failed to explain the reduction. After discounting all of these factors the best predictor for the lower cancer rates was elevation.

Oxygen Causes Cancer

Risk factors, Credit: Simeonov​​ and Himmelstein​

Since the correlation persisted even after controlling for known risk factors it means that the most likely cause of the reduction is atmospheric oxygen. The authors hope that future research about lung cancer will account for elevation since it influences development of the disease.

Do you feel afraid to breathe now that you know oxygen causes cancer? You shouldn’t. We just have to accept that some things are beyond our control.

[pullquote]”were the entire United States situated at the elevation of San Juan County, CO (3473 m), we estimate 65,496 fewer new lung cancer cases would arise per year.” says the authors of the study.[/pullquote]

Image credit: blmiers2 via, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0