Many people do not realise the connection between air pollution and lung cancer. Many associate cancer primarily with tobacco smoking, which is responsible for approximately 90% of all lung cancers. However, many other factors are involved in causing lung cancer. Air pollution is an environmental hazard that is becoming more and more prevalent in many areas of the world, so much so, that it’s lead to the proliferation of mask wearing for health and protection. Although air pollution has been linked to a number of different health issues, one of its most common effects on human health is lung cancer. According to the World Health Organization, air pollution is now responsible for one in eight of all deaths around the globe, with some labelling it the “silent killer.” But how does air pollution cause lung cancer?
It’s connected with many kinds of cancer
There’s been little surprise behind the reveal that air pollution is associated with lung cancer. In fact, recent studies have suggested that pollution is also associated with various other forms of cancer, such as pancreatic, liver and breast cancer. Some years back, a pair of researchers took it upon themselves to study long-term exposure to ambient (outdoor) fine particulate matter, a combination of environmental pollutants that, amidst other sources, stems from power generation and transportation, has an aerodynamic breadth of less than 2.5 micrometres, and is referred to as PM2.5.
One researcher was based in Hong Kong, while the other was based in Birmingham, although the study itself was conducted on a sample of 66,280 residents of Hong Kong. Those enrolled in this study were 65 years of age and older, were signed up between 1998 and 2001, observed until 2011, and whose causes of death were obtained through Hong Kong registrations. After making the necessary adjustments, the study revealed that the risk of death by any cancer rose by 22% for every 10 micrograms per cubic meter of increased exposure to PM2.5. The mortality risk for cancers of the upper digestive tract were 42% higher, while cancers of the gall bladder, pancreas, bile ducts and liver were 35% higher. Breast cancer was 80% percent higher and lung cancer was 36% higher.
According to the authors, pollution was able to influence the spread of cancer by altering the body’s immune response, causing faults in DNA repair ability, and sparking inflammation that triggered the growth of new blood vessels, resulting in the spread of tumours. As for digestive organs, it was determined that pollution could impact upon gut microbiota, thus influencing the advancement of cancer. However, what was also revealed was that pollution was but one contributing factor and that things like diet and exercise were also significant and more modifiable.
An unequal distribution of air pollution
Global imbalances in air pollution exposure are on the rise, and the brunt is being felt by low- and middle-income countries whose economic development and large-scale urbanisation projects have been fuelled by the burning of fossil fuels. Global estimations of ambient air pollution have revealed that hundreds of millions of healthy life years are lost, particularly by those who reside in developing nations. Most at risk are those with chronic conditions such as heart disease, asthma, COPD, the elderly, pregnant women, and children. The extent of the problem is such, that in 2019 it was assessed that over 90% of the world’s population resided in areas exceeding the concentration level for long term exposure to PM2.5 as defined in the 2005 WHO air quality guideline.
Mitigating factors – diet and exercise
While the WHO has spelled out new guidelines in order to mitigate the extent of air pollution, these solutions, if and when materialised, will only happen over the course of years to come. Air pollution is a global problem, with some parts of the world afflicted less than others, but its global reach remains. With this in mind, the immediate steps that everyone can take come down to nutrition and physical exercise, something which is of equal and greater importance to those suffering from lung cancer.
Flex your body, mind & eat well
If you’ve been afflicted by lung cancer and you’re undergoing treatment, there are a number of things you can do to offset the side-effects associated with the treatment. Typically, cancer treatment can cause fatigue, nausea, vomiting, stress, anxiety, and depression. Healthy living can improve conditions for you during and after treatment. If you’re a smoker, it’s not too late to call it quits, even if you’ve been diagnosed. Immediate rewards include stabilised heart rate and blood pressure, as well as improved function for your respiratory system and lungs.
Changing your nutritional habits can also greatly aid you in feeling better during and after lung cancer treatment. The right combination of foods can help you to feel better, stronger and fight off infection. When it comes to choosing a diet or meal plan, there’s no “one size fits all” solution. However, a key part of your daily intake should be protein. Protein is a major building block in your immune system and aids in cell and tissue repair. Include fruits such as apples, dairy products like milk, and even a little wine, and you’ll be consuming foods that have been shown to be protective against lung cancer, especially if you’re a woman. Good nutrition goes hand in hand with an active lifestyle which can maintain a good weight and reduce fatigue. Finally, there’s your mental health. Good nutrition and enough exercise – even a daily walk – can do a world of good, and usually feeds into a healthier mental state, however, it’s also important to address your mental and emotional state by seeing a therapist, a counsellor, or by congregating with fellow cancer patients who are well aware of what you’re going through.
Disclaimer: Cambridge Mask is not a medical website. For any medical questions or advice, please consult a doctor or professional medical advisor.