Why has Lung Cancer become so common?

One of the most common kinds of cancer worldwide, lung cancer is caused when mutated cells in the lungs grow beyond control and form a tumor. Even though the exact cause of a person’s lung cancer may not be completely known, certain risk factors are strongly linked to the disease, especially smoking tobacco. Even exposure to certain chemicals, gases, and pollutants contribute to increasing the risk of developing lung cancer. Even though lung cancer is commonly associated with smoking, there has been a noticeable rise in the rates of the disease among non-smokers (specially women). No one actually knows if or when the disease will develop, but developing an understanding of the risk factors for lung cancer may enable you to take preventive measures to reduce the likelihood of developing the disease. Along with smoking, there are certain factors that might contribute to the development of lung cancer:

  • Second-Hand Smoke - You don’t necessarily have to smoke to develop lung cancer. Your presence in the room of people smoking puts you at a similar risk of developing lung cancer by up to 30%. 
  • Air Pollution - Air pollution contains dust, exhaust, chemicals, and much more which are dangerously harmful to the lungs. Bad air quality as a whole is a major problem because of the sheer number of people who have to breathe it.
  • Family History - If your ancestors had lung cancer, you may be more likely to get it yourself. It’s not clear if that’s due to genetics or because family members often live where causes like secondhand smoke, radon, and other things are in play.
  • Radiation - Radiation therapy is extremely strong. Doctors use high doses of it to kill cancer cells through radiation therapy. But despite all the good it can do, this treatment is considered the root cause for developing secondary cancers. 
  • Eating Habits - A high-carbohydrate diet, which leads to high blood sugar and insulin resistance, has been associated with lung cancer. Eat fewer foods that are high on the glycemic index and you might keep lung cancer far away.

In a recent interview, a chest surgeon from New Delhi Hospital said that he rarely sees healthy pink lungs these days due to high levels of air pollution in the air we all breathe. What shocked and scared him, even more, was that he witnessed children as young as 14-16, with no history of active or passive smoking, with black deposits on their lungs. Even one 2018 study found that 50% of lung cancer patients in North India are now non-smokers – and that more than 21% of patients were below the age of 50. Various pollutants in the air not only damages the lungs, but every organ in our body, including the heart, blood vessels, brain, pancreas, kidneys, urinary bladder, and even reproductive organs.

Doctors all across the world have a moral duty to enlighten the public and policy-makers about the desperate ‘need’ for clean air. It is an absolute necessity for human health and not luxury. The time to act is now. As we recover from COVID-19 and economies are trying to rebuild across the globe, our prime focus should be on providing clean air to the people. Not paying attention to air pollution with its health consequences, for short-term economic benefits, should not be an option. The time to preserve human health over national economic health is NOW.