Environmental risks are responsible for one in five of all deaths worldwide. Persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic substances are chemicals that can subsist for decades in human tissues and the environment. They include heavy metals, organochlorines, polychlorinated biphenyls, organobromines, organofluorines, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons among others. Although humans are often exposed to multiple pollutants simultaneously, their negative effects on health have generally been studied for each one separately. Among the most severe of these harmful effects is cancer.
Here, to compile and analyze the available evidence on the relationship between exposure to mixtures of persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic chemicals and the risk of developing cancer in the general population, we provide a systematic review based on the main databases (Cochrane, PubMed and Embase), together with complementary sources, using the general methodology of the PRISMA Statement. The articles analyzed were selected by two researchers working independently and their quality was evaluated by reference to the Newcastle-Ottawa scale.
The initial search yielded 2379 results from the main sources of information and 22 from the complementary ones. After the article selection process, 22 were included in the final review (21 case-control studies and one cohort study). Analysis of the selected studies revealed that most of the mixtures analyzed were positively associated with risk of cancer, especially that of the breast, colon-rectum or testis, and more strongly so than each contaminant alone.
In view of the possible stronger association observed with the development of cancer for some mixtures of pollutants than when each one is present separately, exposure to mixtures should also be monitored and measured, preferably in cohort designs, to complement the traditional approach to persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic chemicals. The results presented should be taken into account in public health policies in order to strengthen the regulatory framework for cancer prevention and control.