Environmental Exposures Causing Cancer

Environmental Exposures Causing Cancer

Innovating new ways of understanding how toxic and infectious exposures from our environments impact our DNA and cancer risk.

The exposome is the equivalent of the genome, and represents all environmental modifiers of health that we are exposed to throughout life, including those that increase the risk of cancer. These cancer-causing environmental exposures include those from the natural world, like chemicals, metalloids, radiation, and infectious diseases, as well as a growing variety of human-made pollutants. Overwhelmingly, these exposures will result in damage to our DNA and genetic mutations within affected cells – a nearly universal event in cancer formation.

Understanding how environmental exposures translates into cancer risk also considers how our bodies respond to single and mixed exposures as a function of our personal genetics, physiology, age, behaviour and psychology. There are many cancer types whose origins are traced to environmental exposures, with some of the most prevalent being lung cancer, skin cancer, colorectal cancer, bladder cancer, many blood cancers, and more.

The Environmental Exposures Causing Cancer research priority at the Robson DNA Science Centre aims to innovate new ways of understanding these exposures and how they impact our DNA and cancer risk, what may be done to prevent such exposures and how our knowledge can be used to enable early cancer detection.

Environmental Exposures

Why is this work important?

Cancers arising from toxicants in the environment can be prevented and/or detected at an early, more curable stage if we can understand how we are being exposed, which levels of exposures are of elevated concern for cancer risk, how we can better detect exposure at a personal and long-term scale, and what can be done following exposure to ensure the best health outcomes.

Our greatest challenge

is to address rising cancer risks among people who are exposed to preventable toxicants shaped by our natural and built environments, as well as the widespread, collateral consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change on our ever-evolving societies.

Our goal

is to develop new technologies and methods necessary to understand the most preventable environmental sources of the most prevalent cancer types, so that we can reduce the burden of cancer for Canadians.

Our programs

There are several research activities within the centre that focus on environmental exposures causing cancer.

Lead: Dr. Aaron Goodarzi

This research program focuses on lung cancer prevention and early detection through understanding radon and arsenic exposures.

For more informaiton, please visit the Evict Radon website.

Lead: Dr. Susana Kimura-Hara

This multidisciplinary research program aims to address the growing concern of water safety and sustainability for future generations, focusing on developing and integrating chemical and toxicological analysis to evaluate the efficacy of new water treatment processes to produce safe waters from wastewater-impacted water sources.

The objectives of Dr. Kimura-Hara's research program are to:

  1. Develop highly sensitive analytical methods for the detection of trace contaminants;
  2. Evaluate the cumulative toxic effects of trace contaminants when present as mixtures;
  3. Characterize the chemical speciation and toxicity of recycled wastewaters;
  4. Determine the formation of mechanisms of wastewater derived disinfection by-products; and
  5. Develop new water treatment technologies.

For more information, please visit the Advancing Canadian Wastewater Assets (ACWA) and Kimura-Hara Lab websites.

Lead: Dr. Jennifer Corcoran

More information coming soon


Dr. Darren Brenner

Dr. Darren Brenner

Research areas: Cancer screening, biomarkers, big data


Jennifer Corcoran

Dr. Jennifer Corcoran

Research areas: Chronic viral infections and cancer


Aaron Goodarzi

Dr. Aaron Goodarzi

Research areas: Radon gas exposure and all-cause lung cancer


Susana Kimura-Hara

Dr. Susana Kimura-Hara

Research areas: Water safety, toxicology, disinfection by-products