Can Lung Cancer Be Related to Air Pollution?
A report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), found that in 2010, air pollution was responsible for 223,000 deaths from lung cancer worldwide.
The findings were so striking that they prompted the agency, a part of the World Health Organization (WHO), to classify outdoor air pollution as a carcinogen a cancer-causing agent for the first time.
In parts of the world where air pollution is particularly severe, breathing outdoor air poses a similar lung cancer risk to breathing second-hand tobacco smoke, according to Kurt Straif, PhD, the head of the agency's section that ranks carcinogens. "The air we breathe is filled with cancer-causing substances," Straif said at the time of the report's release in 2013. "Outdoor air pollution is not only a major environmental risk to health in general, it is the most important environmental cancer killer due to the large number of people exposed."
What is air pollution?
Air pollution is composed of a host of harmful or potentially harmful substances, including:
- Fine particles produced by the burning of fossil fuels
- Harmful gases such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and chemical vapors
- Ground-level ozone, a reactive form of oxygen that is a major element of urban smog
Air pollution is caused by everything from mechanized transportation and power generation to industrial activity, agricultural production, residential heating, and cooking.
There is substantial evidence that air pollution is worsening in some parts of the world, particularly countries such as China and India that are undergoing rapid industrialization.