The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) recently reported that the capital city’s air quality index (AQI) stands at 383 in Anand Vihar, falling in the “severe” category and other areas in the “very poor” category. The AQI of good quality air is less than 50. And now, Delhi’s air quality is likely to deteriorate in the coming days.
Besides stubble burning in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh are among the many contributors to air pollution at this time of year, the vehicular exhaust is a major marker in Delhi’s air pollution. While doctors advise adhering to safety measures to avoid breathing in the toxic air, they further anticipate an increase in cases of lung cancer.
“Over time, breathing in small particles released into the air can lead to cancer. Small particles can get trapped in the lungs. A buildup of these particles can cause damage to the cells of the lungs, leading to inflammation. These changes may cause the cells of the lungs to grow uncontrollably,” says Dr. Avi Kumar, Senior Consultant, Pulmonology, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute, Okhla Road, New Delhi.
Though the general age of lung cancer patients is 50 and above, medical experts have shared that younger people have also been diagnosed. “Female patients, specifically, come in younger age group in comparison to the male patients,” says Dr. Neetu Jain, Senior Consultant, Pulmonary & Critical Care, Sleep Medicine, PSRI Hospital, New Delhi.
Last month, scientists at the Francis Crick Institute and University College London, funded by Cancer Research UK, released a paper on
How air pollution may trigger lung cancer in never-smokers.
“The same particles in the air that derive from the combustion of fossil fuels, exacerbating climate change, are directly impacting human health via an important and previously overlooked cancer-causing mechanism in lung cells. The risk of lung cancer from air pollution is lower than from smoking, but we have no control over what we all breathe,” said Charles Swanton, the Francis Crick Institute and Cancer Research UK Chief Clinician, London, UK, who presented the research results at the ESMO 2022 Presidential Symposium on September 10.
He added that globally, more people are being “exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution than to toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke” and the new evidence links “the importance of climate health to improving human health.”
Besides this, the changes have shown air pollution to contribute to other health conditions, such as bladder cancer, lung diseases, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), respiratory infections, and cardiovascular disease.
“Yesterday, a lady came in who was diagnosed with lung cancer, even though she was never exposed to cigarette smoke. Adenocarcinoma is the most common lung cancer in non-smokers,” says Dr. Avi Kumar.
Particles from wildfires, black carbon emitted from gas and diesel engines, coal power plants, and other sources that burn fossil fuels, nitrate particles from motor vehicle exhaust, sulfur dioxide emitted by large, coal-fired power plants, ozone (also called smog), carbon monoxide from burning fuels all add to toxic air quality.
“It’s not like if pollution increases, the cases of lung cancer will also increase immediately. However, over a period of time, we can anticipate that we might find more cases coming in, especially among those who are 50 years and above,” adds Dr. Jain.
Wearing N95 masks, using air purifiers, and following basic hygiene at home are some ways to keep your lungs healthy.