Air pollution and lung cancer

Lung cancer claims 160,000 lives in the United States each year, and smoking is the main cause in 85 percent of those cases. The survival rate for this deadly disease is only 15 percent. Though lung cancer kills far more Americans than any other form of cancer, funding for lung cancer research pales in comparison to research into other forms of cancer. This is partly because of the stigma that lung cancer carries – a notion that lung cancer is often self-inflicted as a result of smoking.

Other leading causes of lung cancer include radon exposure in the home, followed by secondhand smoke. Both are indoor air quality problems that can be alleviated through preventative measures, including the use of a high-performance HEPA air purifier. As noted in Air Quality News, one recent study demonstrated that an air purifier can play a major role in reducing asthma symptoms of children living in homes where one or more adults smoke. But the only surefire way to protect yourself against secondhand smoke is to eliminate it from the home. And encourage smokers to quit now.

After radon and secondhand smoke, another important cause of lung cancer is air pollution, and a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Ottawa confirms that fine particle pollution is linked to lung cancer in people who have never smoked. The results, published in October in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, were based on a study of 189,699 lifelong “never smokers.” The study’s conclusion: “The present findings strengthen the evidence that ambient concentrations of PM2.5 (fine particle pollution) measured in recent decades are associated with small but measurable increases in lung cancer mortality.” How much of an increase? People who have never smoked but who live in areas with high levels of pollution are 20 percent more likely to die from lung cancer than those who live where air pollution is not significant.

Many see the increased lung cancer risk related to air pollution as an argument that regulatory levels of acceptable air pollution should remain as low as possible. The research doesn’t prove that the air pollution caused lung cancer, but rather that it increased the mortality rate. The researchers noted that air pollution injures the lungs by causing inflammation and damaging DNA.

The air pollution/lung cancer connection is a good reason to consider potentially protective measures, including the use of an air purifier at home to reduce or eliminate indoor air pollution as much as possible. But considering the overwhelming increase in lung cancer risk caused by smoking, the first and foremost step to help fight this deadly disease is to stop smoking.

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