Space travel can increase the risk of colon cancer, says a new study.
As we prepare to enter the age of space tourism, researchers believe it might be healthier to stay on Earth. In a new study, scientists found that mice exposed to 56Fe radiation, a high-energy radiation prevalent in space, developed tumors in their intestines.
Further research revealed this was due to cosmic radiation, a phenomenon that can prevent gut cells from destroying a protein called beta-catenin. Said protein promotes uncontrolled cell growth, upping the odds of cancerous cells developing.
Study researcher Dr. Kamal Datta, of the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington, D.C., says:
“Sustained exposure during prolonged space missions, such as a mission to Mars and lengthy stays at the International Space Station may cause significant cosmic radiation dose accumulation in astronauts, and thus remains a long-term health concern of space exploration.”
It’s not yet known to what degree a space traveler’s cancer risk is increased; researchers hope that using mice will allow them to make an accurate estimate. Study researcher Shubhankar Suman says:
“Knowing how space radiation induces tumor formation will allow us to develop preventive strategies that target this specific signaling pathway.”
Dr. Albert Fornace of Georgetown University added that researchers hope to develop drugs that astronauts can take to protect themselves from cosmic radiation’s effects. Vitamin D is already taken by astronauts for nutritional reasons, and some have suggested the vitamin helps protect against cancer.
Would an increased risk of developing cancer put you off grabbing a ticket to space?