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Air pollution is a growing problem around the world. Is it linked to Lung Cancer? – Times of India


According to the World Health Organisation, air pollution or particle pollution is a significant cause of lung cancer. It is estimated that, lung cancer caused due to air pollution leads to 1.8 million deaths globally every year, accounting for 29% of all lung cancer related deaths. Smoke and dust from any source is the main cause of air pollution. It is usually generated through vehicle exhaust, coal-fired power plants and other industrial sources and can cause lung cancer. While the bigger particles that we breathe in can be disposed from the body through sneezing and coughing, the smaller ones can get trapped in the lungs, affecting it. These particles interfere with the development and functioning of the lungs.

Why it is crucial now more than ever to generate awareness about lung health issues caused by pollution?

Air pollution causes serious damage to the respiratory tract. Research suggests that it can lead to lung conditions such as Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, emphysema (condition causing shortness of breath) and lung cancer in addition to worsening existing respiratory illnesses. It is commonly believed that smoking cigarette causes lung cancer. However, lung cancer can also affect those who do not smoke or consume tobacco. Factors like second-hand smoke and inhalation of radon and asbestos can also lead to lung cancer. The British Medical Journal (BMJ) has highlighted the increasing linkage between outdoor pollution and mortality and morbidity from non-malignant cardiovascular and respiratory disease and lung cancer. Despite the severe and permanent health damage caused by air pollution, people are still largely unaware of its fatal implications. Hence, there is a need to spread awareness about the perils of air pollution and undertake necessary precautionary measures at an individual level to prevent it from becoming a public health emergency.


How does lung cancer begin and how it can impact an individual as it progresses?


Lung cancer originates when the cells in the lungs start growing abnormally. They typically originate in the bronchi (tubes in the windpipe that enter the lungs), bronchioles (smaller branches of bronchi) and alveoli (tiny air sacs at the end of the bronchioles). The symptoms of lung cancer include persistent coughing which worsens over time, coughing up blood, phlegm or spit, shortness of breath, chest pain, hoarseness, bone pain, headache and unexplained weight loss.

Lung cancer is a progressive condition and below are the different stages of the disease:

Stage I: The cancer is located only in the lungs and does not spread to any lymph node

Stage II: The cancer spreads to the nearby lymph node

Stage III: The cancer in the lung spreads to the lymph nodes in the middle of the chest. This stage is also known as locally advanced disease

Stage IV: This is the most advanced stage and is also described as advanced disease. In this stage, the cancer spreads to both lungs, including the fluid in the area around the lungs, or to another part of the body such as the liver or other organs

What is the impact lifestyle and environment can have on the disease?

The following preventive measures can be undertaken for reducing the risk of lung cancer from air pollution:

Avoid smoking as it is one of the most common pollutants, both outdoor and indoors

Household cleaning items may contain harsh chemicals, the fumes of which can be detrimental

De-clutter the house and ensure it is well ventilated

Use a dehumidifier and/or air conditioner to reduce moisture

Vacuum and dust surfaces frequently

Choose a cleaner commute

Avoid burning leaves, trash, and other materials

Limit or avoid exposure to cancer-causing agents like in asbestos, radioactive ores such as uranium, inhaled chemicals such as arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, silica, vinyl chloride, nickel etc.


If one is a regular smoker, what is their life expectancy when they are diagnosed with lung cancer?


The life expectancy post diagnosis of lung cancer depends on the stage of diagnosis. When diagnosed early i.e. during Stage 1 and 2, cure is possible in most patients. However, when we reach stage 3, cure is possible in some cases by a combined treatment with Chemotherapy, Surgery and Radiotherapy. On the other hand, in Stage 4, we focus on controlling the cancer and not curing the disease. Thus, it is vital that we take all measures to prevent lung cancer and diagnose it as early as possible.

By Dr. Arvind Kumar
Chairman Institute of Chest Surgery, Chest Onco Surgery & Lung Transplantion, Medanta



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