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World Lung Cancer Day 2021: Can Air Pollution Increase Your Risk Of Lung Cancer? Expert Explains

World Lung Cancer Day strives to create awareness about this cancer type and what are the causes of this. Read here to know how air pollution is one of the risk factors you should be worried about.

World Lung Cancer Day 2021: Can Air Pollution Increase Your Risk Of Lung Cancer? Expert Explains

World Lung Cancer Day 2021: Air pollution is one of the major risk factors for lung cancer

World Lung Cancer Day which is observed on 1st August every year tries to create awareness about this cancer type. People who smoke are at a higher risk of lung cancer. While other risk factors include exposure to second hand smoke, family history of the cancer, exposure to certain toxins and more. According to WHO, air pollution and various particles/chemicals in air pollution are known to be carcinogenic to humans. Air pollution is also a relevant contributor to lung cancer burden.

Smoking is one of the most associated and most implicated risk factor of lung cancer. It has a clear and direct causation to the disease. However, as per recent data, a huge number of lung cancer cases have been reported that are linked with exposure to pollutant particles on a regular basis. Hence, when comparing smokers to non-smokers living in highly polluted areas, both are likely to get lung cancer.

Pollutants impact in long and short term on lungs

30 years ago, people used to get these diseases at a later stage of their 50's or 60's, since they typically started smoking at 18 years of age, exposing them to smoke particles at a later stage in their lives. However, now, breathing highly polluted toxic air which results in poor lung health at early ages.

How to fight against the harmful impact of air pollution?

People must realise that to protect their health and especially lungs from harmful impacts of pollutants in the air would be to actively work towards reducing said pollution. Many individuals talk about air-purifiers and masks as a solution. However, these are incredibly personalised, incomplete and inefficient ways to avoid the problem. Long-term solution lies in addressing the issue of air-pollution.

Indoor vs outdoor pollution

It is not the source of pollution but the cumulative exposure one has to it. For e.g., if a woman living in a village who is cooking with wood fire every day for 8 hours, she is equally vulnerable to lung-cancer as a person living in a highly polluted city or someone smoking 1-2 cigarettes per day. Hence, it depends on the exposure level and duration.

Socio-economic status and exposure to pollution

There is a direct co-relation between one's socio-economic status and the impact of air pollution.

As opposed to a child living in a closed-off gated and green community with indoor exposure to air pollution being minimal due to air-purifiers. People living in poor communities that are overcrowded, continue to use wood as fuel (which produces a lot of smoke in the house), and are located near highways and other polluted areas, are exposed to a higher level of pollution daily. The other factor has to do with the nutrition and a well-balanced lifestyle. An undernourished child would be more vulnerable to these pollutants as compared to a well-fed, well-nourished child.

COVID and Lung Health

This has been an extensively studied area. A study published by Harvard which examined mortality to PM 2.7 AQI in over 300 counties in the US and they found that there was a direct correlation between increasing PM 2.5 levels and the mortality reported from their hospitals.

(Dr. (Prof.) Arvind Kumar, Founder & Managing Trustee Lung Care Foundation and Chairman, Institute of Chest Surgery, Medanta)

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