Air Pollution and Lung Cancer Among Non-Smokers

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People who have not smoked and are not smoking, but dwell in places where air pollution levels are higher, are more likely to die from lung cancer. The risk is 20% greater for these people as compared to those who live in an area with cleaner air, said researchers in a recent study.

“It’s another argument for why the regulatory levels (for air pollutants) be as low as possible,” according to Francine Laden who is a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. Laden is not involved in the said study.

Although cigarette smoking is the primary cause of lung cancer, one out of every ten people who acquires this condition has never smoked ever. “Lung cancer in ‘never smokers’ is an important cancer. It’s the sixth leading cause of cancer in United States,” shares lead author of the study, Michelle Turner. She is also a graduate of the University of Ottawa.

An estimated 14 t0 21 out of 100,000 women who are non-smokers get lung cancer. On the other hand, 5 to 14 out of every 100,000 non-smoking men develop lung cancer, too. The small particles in air pollution which leads to the irritation of the lungs and cause inflammation, are said to be a huge risk factor for developing lung cancer. However, researchers have not been clearly teased apart the impact from that of smoking.

In the said study, Michelle Turner and her colleagues involved more than 180,000 people who do not smoke for about twenty years. Throughout the period of the study, about 1,100 people died from lung cancer.

All the participants lived in all fifty US states and in Puerto Rico. Based on their zip codes, the research group estimated the amount of air pollution in which the individuals are exposed to. The pollution was measured in units of micrograms of small pollution particles per cubic meter of air.

In different locations in the US, pollution levels played between six units to an all time high if 38 units. The amount of pollution sloped down over time. The average of 21 units during 1979 to 1983 and the 14 units last 1999 to 2000 produced an overall average level of pollution of 17 units for the entire study period.

Upon taking into consideration other risk factors for lung cancer i.e. second hand smoking and exposure to carcinogenic chemicals, they found out that for every 10 extra units of air pollution exposure, a person’s risk of lung cancer increased  from 15 to 27 percent.

Fine particles in polluted areas can harm the lungs due to inflammation and damage to the DNA, reported the team of researchers. The said report is also published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

There are also previous researches about the said topic which suggested similar conclusions. In China, for example, it was found out that the increased risk for lung cancer can be attributed to indoor air pollution like burning coal and woods used to heat homes. Several Europeans studies have also  found out that soot levels and exhaust from vehicles can cause lung cancer in non-smokers.

 

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