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Air Pollution is one of the major risk factors in causing cancer, explain Oncologists

International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reports that outdoor air pollution causes lung cancer and is also linked to an increased risk for bladder cancer
Out of the World’s 10 most polluted cities, nine are in India

Meerut 27th November, 2018: The association between air pollution and lung cancer has been well established for decades and that air pollution is a major risk factor for inducing cancer is not unknown.

With the onset of the farm burning season yet again, the outcome of the pollution caused will undoubtedly cause increased harm to several people with any kind of health disorder. Air pollution is the harmful substances in the air we breathe. It includes a mixture of many different substances and includes fumes from cars, smoke from burning crop wastes and natural substances like dust.

In 2013, outdoor air pollution was identified as a cause of cancer by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). It is designated as a carcinogen because it is directly co-related with increased risk of cancer apart from causes such as smoking and obesity.

What is also important is the fact that air pollution affects everyone.
The research shows that tiny dust-like particles – called ‘particulate matter’ or PM – are an important part of air pollution. The smallest particles – less than 2.5 millionths of a metre across, known as PM2.5 – are behind lung cancers caused by pollution. It is known by researches and meta-analysis that the risk of developing lung cancer increases as the level of PM2.5 in the air increases.

Dr Gagan Saini, Principal Consultant, Department of Oncology, Max Healthcare says, “Mechanism of damage by PM 2.5 is indicated by the free radicals, metal and the organic components. These can freely diffuse into our blood through the lung and damage and oxidize lung cells thereby causing primary body injury. PM2.5 surface is rich in iron, copper, zinc, manganese, and other metals and harmful polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and lipopolysaccharide, etc. These components can further increase free radical production in the lung and damage the DNA in healthy cells further. PM2.5 also contributes significantly in inducing inflammation. Inflammation is body’s way to fight day to day infections but PM2.5 causes it to be active in an unhealthy manner and leads to unchecked chemical activation and leads to altered cellular divisions thereby sowing early seeds of cancer.”

The Lung cancer statistics reveal a shocking figure with 80,000 new lung cancer cases reported. And this includes non-smokers with the percentage of non-smokers with lung cancer going up by 30 to 40 per cent. There could be other factors like obesity or drinking, but what is glaring is air pollution.

Dr Gagan Saini reveals, “Rise in lung cancer cases reported from Delhi at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) has more than doubled from 940 in 2013-14 to 2,082 in 2015-16, coinciding with a time of increased air pollution in the city. Lung cancer among non-smokers indicates younger patients between 30-40 years, more females and non-smokers with advanced cancers. In my experience I am witnessing the rise in cases of lung cancer and urge people to not ignore the worrisome signs but to take immediate precautions against the health hazards it poses.”

Air pollution is not only associated with Lung cancer but is also associated with breast cancer, liver cancer and pancreatic cancers. Air pollution is also implicated in oral and throat cancers. The only way forward for humanity is to collectively check air pollution.

Perhaps a good way to do that will be to not try to finish it in one go but to make a plan for gradual deceleration of use of pollutants and have strong legislation.

India needs an increased awareness on the health hazards posed by air pollution. The first in awareness is to give cognisance to the symptoms and rush to the doctor. The early symptoms include persistent cough, coughing with blood in sputum, chest pain that gets worse with deep breathing or coughing, hoarseness, weight/appetite loss and shortness of breath, among others. For the lucky ones who have not been affected, it would be wise to adopt healthy changes in lifestyle, inclusions in diet that contribute to increasing immunity and following habits like wearing masks and covering the face to minimise the inhalation of polluted air.

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