Research Sections

Section of Environment and Radiation

The overall objectives of the Section of Environment and Radiation (ENV) are to investigate environmental, lifestyle, occupational and radiation-related causes of cancer in human populations. The Section investigates these exogenous factors with the aim of contributing to primary prevention of cancer and to increase the understanding of biological mechanisms of carcinogenesis. These objectives are achieved through collaborative international epidemiological studies using a multidisciplinary approach when possible or through the initiation of individual analytical epidemiological studies. A second approach used by the Section is the coordination of international consortia of epidemiological studies.

With studies related to environmental, lifestyle, occupational or radiation-related exposures the scope of the Section is broad.

Investigation of external environmental exposures such as pollutants and occupational exposures are core tasks of the Section. One major area of research is on pesticides, with the establishment of a consortium of agricultural cohort studies (AGRICOH) allowing the investigation of various research questions and with particular studies on testicular cancer and childhood cancer in the offspring of parents exposed to pesticides, with both latter research questions addressed with multiple but complementary study designs. Other larger efforts are on occupational risk factors for lung cancer (SYNERGY), cancer risks in workers in the rubber industry, and on asbestos-related cancer risks. Research on lifestyle-related factors comprises tobacco and other drugs of abuse, specifically qat chewing. Lifestyle-related questions are also part of comprehensive studies of particular cancers when there is potential interplay between environment and other factors. Further research comprises the launch of studies on the aetiology of oesophageal and breast cancer as well as childhood cancer in low- and middle-income countries. Cancers of particular interest in the Section within the context of ongoing studies are brain tumours, testicular cancer, upper digestive tract cancer (particularly oesophageal cancer), childhood cancer, and breast cancer, with the latter also in a broader context of using mammographic density as intermediate marker.

Related to ionizing radiation the Section has projects on the effects of protracted low doses of external ionizing radiation from medical diagnostic examinations (e.g. cohort studies of children and adolescents exposed to Computed Tomography (EPI-CT)) and from occupational activities (e.g. follow-up of the International Study of Workers in the Nuclear Industry); studies of populations exposed to Chernobyl fallout (e.g. development of the Chernobyl Research Agenda - ARCH); collaboration in studies on in utero exposure to ionizing radiation in the Southern Urals (SOLO); and studies on the interaction between ionizing radiation and genetic factors (e.g. case-control study of thyroid cancer in young people in the wake of the Chernobyl accident).

With regard to non-ionizing radiation, research activities include a large international collaborative case-control study on mobile phone use and the risk of brain tumours, acoustic neuroma and salivary gland tumours (Interphone),collaboration in a Danish cohort study of mobile phone subscribers, a pilot study to set up a prospective cohort study of mobile phone users in France, and collaboration in studies on extremely low-frequency magnetic fields and childhood cancer. The Interphone study and collaboration in an international study on brain tumours in teenagers and adolescents (Cefalo) allows investigation of various possible environmental and genetic risk factors of brain tumours.

The Section receives mainly funds from the European Commission.