Things you should know about air pollution and cancer

Air Pollution and Cancer

Did you know that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organisation has categorized outdoor air pollution as a group 1 carcinogen in 2013? This is the highest level of warning that can be prevalent. This is also the first time that scientists have evaluated air pollution as a cancer-causing element. 

What type of cancer is caused by air pollution and what are the stats? 

Air pollution increases the risk of lung cancer. Less commonly, it also causes breast, prostate, colorectal, kidney, brain, and liver cancers and disorders. In 2018, lung cancer affected 2.09 million people worldwide and killed around 1.7 million people. About 70% of deaths occurred in low to middle-income countries where pollution levels were the highest as compared to other countries.

As air pollution is climbing in urban cities, there has been a global shift in lung cancer cases. The studies have shown that for every 10 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) of increased exposure to PM2.5, the risk of dying from various cancers rose by 20 to 80 percent.

Air pollution is a mix of gases and aerosols. Aerosols is a suspended solid and liquid particles and are the most hazardous pollutant. It is also known as Particulate matter (PM) which is a mixture of particles such as dust, soot, smog, or smoke.

Fine particulate matter, also known as PM2.5 has the largest impact on public health globally. It is produced directly from the combustion of a variety of carbon-based fuels and it can also be produced in chemical reactions between pollutants that are already in the atmosphere.

The common sources of PM2.5 air pollution are vehicle exhaust, industrial emissions, solid fuel use, and refuse to burn. 

Other cancer-causing culprits are PM10 and NO2 gas which is there in the environment. 

How air pollution can actually affect our health?

Air pollution (PM2.5 , PM10 and NO2 gas) can damage our DNA, suppress our immune systems that fight against cancer and trigger an inflammatory environment in our body. These conditions induce the disease of cancer even more. 

Indoor air pollution is real and dangerous

Not just outdoor pollution, but indoor pollution is also a concern for our health. Indoor pollution consists of kitchen fumes, second-hand tobacco smoke, and volatile organic compounds (VOC’s). VOC’s are carbon-containing compounds that are released by household items such as household cleaners, furniture, household plastics, etc. It is even risky in poorly ventilated buildings.

Another major cause of lung cancer is exposure to radon gas, especially in non-smokers. Radon is a radioactive gas that gets released from the breaking of natural uranium in soil and water. It gets accumulated in homes especially in poorly ventilated basements. The people staying in areas where radon gas is prevalent, they must know about the ways to protect from radon exposure. 

What can be done to reduce cancer risk?

It is difficult to avoid air pollution completely, hence, we should focus on the other modifiable factors that are under our control such as quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating healthy fruits and salads.

Here is a pictographic graph representing the number of cigarettes smoked and PM2.5 level in Delhi in the month of October to November will shock you.. (The graph represents the stats of one month from 20th October to 21st November) – 

Some Tips to protect from Pollution – 

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  • Stay Indoors – Avoid going on walks in the morning and evening and try to exercise only at home until the situation improves. Recently, a study claims that Delhi’s morning walks are bad for the lungs and can cause damage to immunity.

Hence, think twice before heading out for a morning walk because air pollution is at its highest in the morning. It is advised to shift outdoor activities to evening hours when pollution is less. 

  • Get an Air Purifier – It is recommended to get hands-on an air purifier in the toxic environment. In case you have children, elderly, pregnant women, or asthma patients in the house, then one must always invest in an air purifier.
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  • Use a closed-transport system – Avoid traveling in open vehicles such as two-wheelers and auto-rickshaws. It is advised to travel on the metro, buses, and cars and adopt carpooling so that fuel emission can be limited. Fuel Emission is one of the biggest causes of air pollution.

    Fewer cars on the roads mean reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and improved air quality.

  • Grow trees and foster indoor plants – Plants give out oxygen and the best way to improve air quality is to grow as many trees as possible. Aloe vera, Areca Palm, English Ivy, and Spider are some plants that purify the air and minimize the indoor pollution.
  • Eat well and stay fit – It is very important to maintain a good diet which includes lots of fruits and vegetables. Hence, keep yourself hydrated to ensure that you have a strong immune system to fight off diseases. Water helps in getting rid of extra toxins in the body.
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