Understanding The Connection Between Air Pollution And Lung Cancer
Cancer in the lungs is common and people who smoke are at the highest risk of contracting lung cancer.
Lung cancer, often diagnosed at later stages due to overlooked symptoms, poses a grave threat with escalating cases and mortality rates.
The smoking connection:
Cancer in the lungs is common and people who smoke are at the highest risk of contracting lung cancer. The risk of lung cancer increases with the duration of smoking period and the number of cigarettes smoked. The silver lining though is that if one quits this habit even after several years, one can significantly reduce the chances of developing lung cancer. Exposure to air pollution can lead to a range of diseases, including stroke, COPD, lung cancers, asthma aggravation, and lower respiratory infections.
How air pollution adversely impacts lung health
The truth about air pollution and its impact on lung cancer is stark. According to recent studies, air pollution can increase the risk of lung cancer by 20%. The WHO has identified air pollution as a leading cause of respiratory diseases, including lung cancer. The guidelines set by WHO recommend reducing exposure to air pollution as a way to prevent lung cancer.
The European Environment Agency (EEA) has linked the increase in air pollution levels to a rise in the rate of lung cancer in India. According to the EEA, exposure to fine particles (PM2.5 and PM10) has been found to increase the risk of lung cancer. The increase in air pollution levels has had a direct impact on the health of India's citizens, making them more vulnerable to developing lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.
India's silent battle
One of the most significant factors contributing to the increase in Lung Cancer cases in India is the rise in pollution levels. According to recent studies, air pollution is attached to more than 1.5 million deaths each year in India. Moreover, the harmful pollutants present in the air can lead to the development of several other health conditions, including respiratory diseases and cancer. For instance, a study conducted in the year 2019 revealed that exposure to air pollution was responsible for more than 1.67 million deaths in India, accounting for 17.8% of the total deaths in the country due to cancer.
Pollution's silent invasion:
Primary sources of air pollution, from burning fossil fuels to industrial processes, unleash harmful particulate matter (PM) that penetrates deep into the lungs. Nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and volatile organic compounds further expedite cancer cell formation, with long-term exposure weakening the immune system and causing respiratory problems.
Air pollution's genetic impact:
Beyond respiratory problems, air pollution leaves an indelible mark on the genetic landscape. The accumulation of mutagenic substances in the lungs can cause genetic changes, setting the stage for the development of cancer cells.
Need for gender-specific awareness:
Lung cancer, one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths, affects men and women differently. Men are prone to small cell lung cancer, while women face non-small cell lung cancer risks. Gender-specific exposures, such as secondhand smoke and chemotherapy, necessitate tailored awareness initiatives.
Early detection and treatment:
Early detection remains pivotal, with surgical, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy constituting effective treatments. Prognosis improves with early diagnosis and intervention, emphasizing the urgency of regular screenings, particularly for individuals over 75 years of age.
Clearing the air for a breathable future:
Air pollution emerges as a significant catalyst for rising lung cancer cases in India. Avoiding smoking, reducing second-hand smoke exposure, adopting cleaner transportation, planting trees, and understanding local pollution sources become imperative. Consulting oncologists for early detection and maintaining regular screenings are critical steps.
(Dr. Praveen K Garg, Senior Consultant - Surgical Oncology, Apollo Cancer Centres, New Delhi)
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