Air pollution major cause of lung cancer in India, say health experts

High risk patients are eligible for lung cancer screening and it is found to be lifesaving. Despite the continuous efforts, uptake for lung cancer screening is very low which emphasises the need of public awareness

Swati Luthra
First Published1 Dec 2022
There are about 70,275 lung cancer cases in India. Globally, there are about 2.20 million new cases. (Photo: iStock)
There are about 70,275 lung cancer cases in India. Globally, there are about 2.20 million new cases. (Photo: iStock)

NEW DELHI: Air pollution is a major health hazard affecting billions of people around the world, particularly developing countries like India.

According to the conference organized by Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSPCHAM), ‘Lung Cancer- Awareness, Prevention, Challenges & Treatment’, air pollution is the leading cause for the rise of lung cancer in the country. “Around 63 out of the 100-most polluted places on earth belong to India.”

“As per the study conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), lung cancer is one of the most prevalent cancers as well as the leading cause of cancer-related deaths. In India, lung cancer constitutes 6.9 % of all new cancer cases and 9.3 % of all cancer-related deaths,” according to shared statistics.

There are about 70,275 lung cancer cases in India. Globally, there are about 2.20 million new cases, among 11.4% of total thoracic tumour cases and 1.79 million deaths (18 % of total cancer deaths). By 2025, these numbers are expected to double.

Delivering the welcome address, D. S. Rana, chairperson, ASSOCHAM Wellness Council, and chairperson Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, said that the focus has shifted to non-communicable diseases now because of Covid-19.

“Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer death globally. In India there is a rising trend in incidence of lung cancer among smokers as well as non-smokers. Environmental pollutants like arsenic, chromium, nickel, asbestos, dioxins have to be addressed along with smoking being the major cause. There needs to be a national screening program in place,” said V. Srinivasan, director (FAC), Govt Arignar Anna Memorial Cancer Hospital & Research Institute, Karapettai, Kanchipuram.

Srinivasan added that preventive laws like COPTA, Air pollution and Environment protection act have to be implemented more effectively. “Public private partnership to develop facilities and program to screen, diagnose, and treat lung cancer like molecular labs and high-end radiation therapy equipment can be planned. Lung cancer is preventable and treatable cancer.”

The symptoms of lung cancer include persistent coughing that gets worse gradually, chest pain that intensifies with coughing, blood in the sputum while coughing, hoarseness in voice, breathlessness or gasping, weakness and fatigue, unexplained weight loss and decrease in appetite.

Abhishek Shankar, Associate Professor, Department of Radiation Oncology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Patna, said that air pollution has emerged as an important risk factor for lung cancer along with many other cancers beyond tobacco use.

“High risk patients are eligible for lung cancer screening and it is found to be lifesaving. Despite the continuous efforts, uptake for lung cancer screening is very low which emphasizes the need of public awareness. More efforts are needed to make lung cancer treatment accessible and affordable to minimize the disparity and inequality in access to care and outcomes,” Shankar added.

Lung cancer treatment has several challenges related to timely diagnosis, obtaining samples by various modalities, and cost-related issues. Despite providing free diagnostic and treatment services, there is a considerable delay in therapy initiation and a significant proportion of treatment non-initiation and abandonment.

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