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How air pollution can damage lungs and cause cancer

Feb 16, 2018

How air pollution can damage lungs and cause cancer
How air pollution can damage lungs and cause cancer | Credit: Benita5

Lung cancer is a disease that is increasingly found in Indians. What makes this disease even more dangerous than other types of cancer is that it stays undetected in the body for a long time, and by the time the patient actually goes to a doctor and the cancer is diagnosed, it is usually at a very advanced stage, and cure is difficult, if not impossible. We do know that smoking is usually accepted as one of the main reasons for lung cancer, but experts also say that air pollution is a major source of carcinogens.

The elements in today’s polluted air that are said to cause lung cancer are particulate metals, dust, automobile exhaust, and other particulate matter. As more and more media attention is focussed on the alarming levels of pollution in the country, you must be reading about the ppm (parts per million) scores of particulate matter in different cities. These particulate matters (whether solids like metals or dust, or liquid droplets) are a major cause for lung cancer, as per the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Habits like smoking are in the individual’s hands, and by controlling or stopping smoking, one can reduce the chances of lung cancer. But what does one do about pollution? It is, as they say, in the air around us, and we have no other option than to breathe in this polluted air. But wait, breathing might be mandatory, but breathing polluted air could be optional, provided we do certain things.

We could check pollution levels (on TV or internet), and avoid exercising outside when pollution levels are high. If possible, we could avoid areas which see heavy vehicular traffic. We could contribute to control of air pollution by using less energy in our offices and homes (and thereby reduce our carbon footprint). Carpooling is a viable option we could choose to reduce car emissions. All gasoline powered equipment we use at home or office could be replaced by electric or even manual (powered by human effort) devices.

Is there anything the government can do? We have seen recent efforts taken by some governments to control the use of cars on certain days of the week. Some government bodies organize car-free days over weekends to encourage people to walk or cycle or run more. The emission norms could be made stricter, and also the Government could introduce curbs to control purchase of new vehicles.