New research center maps connection between cancer and environmental pollution

Medical statistics indicate that the Czech Republic’s Plzeň region, in western Bohemia, has the highest rate of colon and kidney cancer in the world. A new research center funded by the European Union will now devote itself to the study of this worrying phenomenon. While environmental factors are sure to play a role, the exact cause of the high cancer rate in the region remains a mystery.

Brno’s Masaryk University has received funding from the European Union to launch a new research project which will map the connection between environmental pollution and high cancer rates in the Plzeň region. The university will open a new center for research, the CETOCOEN center, in 2012. One of the experts who will be working there, Professor Ladislav Dušek, explains why the situation in Plzeň is especially significant for research.

“You can find in well-known and evidence-based international literature that the Czech Republic as a whole stands at the top position in terms of incidence and mortality of both colon and kidney cancer worldwide. And once we checked the inter-regional differences within our country, we found that the Plzeň region is most burdened by these two types of cancer.”

The project, which was granted an initial budget of over 600 million Czech crowns, will seek to establish and interpret connections between the occurrence of those two types of cancers and environmental pollution.

Ladislav DušekLadislav Dušek “Both these types of cancer are linked to the gastro-intestinal tract, and since there is a correlation between colon and kidney cancer in that region, it could point to some type of environmental exposure. These cancers can be related to the toxic effect from the environment, because both have some relation to food, to drinking water and so on.”

Professor Ivan Holoubek, who will be mapping the environmental situation for the project, says that what is surprising is that there are many regions in the Czech Republic that are far more polluted than the Plzeň area but have a lower incidence of kidney and colon cancer.

“For the public it’s a most sensitive question- with the exception of Plzeň proper, our region is not dramatically polluted. There are other regions in the Czech Republic, for example in Northern Bohemia, Northern Moravia, Prague and so on, that are far more polluted. But there can be some other problems which we haven’t investigated yet, for example radioactive contamination or other pollutants, because our knowledge concerning types of pollutants is limited.”

While some data on pollution and cancer rates has already been gathered in the Czech Republic, there is no database yet that adequately maps the connection between them. The CETOCOEN center will devote itself to establishing this connection and understanding the negative effect of chemicals on the human immune system.

Illustrative photo: European CommissionIllustrative photo: European Commission “In my opinion, the most important aspect of environmental pollution is immuno-toxicity, which means that some chemicals can affect the immune system in humans. And in this specific region, we haven’t found the correct answer yet. It’s impossible to say ‘This area is highly polluted; there is direct evidence of this.’ This is why we mention this region as one example where we are not quite sure where the root of the problem lies.”