DEC 08, 2019 4:52 PM PST

Why do colder, wetter climates have a higher prevalence of cancer?

You might want to sit down, because this news may come as a surprise: researchers have found an association between cold, wet climates and increased cancer incidence. That’s right, while you thought that avoiding the sun would decrease your risk of skin cancer, it might actually be increasing it. That’s according to a study that was just published in Environmental Engineering Science.

Could rainy, cold weather be linked to higher cancer prevalence?Photo: Pixabay

Okay, so maybe not skin cancer specifically – but definitely other forms of cancer, explain the authors. And the reasons are more complex than you might think. It’s not that the rain or the cold itself is the culprit of higher prevalence of cancers and cancer-related mortalities in regions like the East Coast of the United States, it’s that these climate factors may, as the researchers put it, “increase the exposure to carcinogens by acting as carriers or increasing the natural biotic generation of carcinogens."

Wow. That’s a lot, so let’s back up a moment.

In order to conduct this study, these scientists collected cancer data from fifteen states: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin. As you can tell, they covered a large range of climate zones. They also focused their data on breast cancer, ovarian cancer, lung cancer, colorectal cancer, and prostate cancer.

After controlling for influencing factors like age, gender, ethnicity, income level, population age, and diversity, the team saw a strong association. "[T]he effect of increased precipitation was an increase in the incidence of all cancers. Likewise, climate zone was significant for all cancer outcomes."

The authors have several theories for why this might be. For instance, maybe colder weather puts people’s metabolisms into overdrive and sets the right internal environment for tumor growth. Or maybe it has to do with vitamin D deficiencies. Or maybe even it could be the acidic soils in these regions emitting through complex biological processes increased levels of nitrous acid, which is known to be carcinogenic. The debate is still up in the air.

While the authors are clear about the limitations of their analysis (they did not consider all cancer types nor all geographic climate zones), the findings from the study are strong enough to support the need for further investigations. So, before you New Englanders pack up and move, let’s wait to hear more.

Sources: Environmental Engineering Science, Medical News Today

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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