In the northern parts of the country, winter is usually synonymous with pollution. There is a thick blanket of smog (smoke and fog) which engulfs many cities. Prolonged exposure to smog can cause many health issues, and this Lung Cancer Awareness Month we look at how pollution particularly affects lungs.
Dr Niti Raizada, director, medical oncology and hemato-oncology at Fortis La Femme Hospital, Richmond Road, Bengaluru, says we generally associate lung cancer with tobacco smoking.
“Particulate pollution is a tiny particle that comprises acids, organic chemicals, metals, soil and dust. The ultra fine particles not only wade through the lungs, they can also easily enter our bloodstream and cause harm. These are mixtures of solid and liquid that are emitted largely by vehicles (nitrates), power plants, industries (sulphur dioxide). It can also be natural environmental (radon). Essentially, the air may appear clean as we cannot see these particles, but they all cause cancer,” the doctor explains.
According to her, these pollutants do not just cause cancer, they are also “proven to cause increased cardiovascular/ischaemic heart disease leading to heart attacks and strokes, increased mortality among infants and children, increased asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)”.
Dr Raizada warns that one does not need years and decades of exposure to get lung cancer, even short term exposure to high quantities is known to trigger the mutations causing lung cancer.
So, what steps can be taken to tackle this?
“We may not be able to get away from the pollution of big cities, but when we go outside for exercise, it is wiser to stay away from paths on which there are polluting vehicles. It is better to choose a park. Similarly, look out for sources of pollution like burning of fossil fuel stoves, diesel generator fumes, and ensure all safety measures for the fumes are properly channeled out through the exhausts much above the height of the buildings,” the doctor advises.