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An expert explains why an increased number of women and non-smokers are suffering from lung cancer

Know why women and non-smokers are falling prey to lung cancer

Till about two decades ago it was seen that lung cancer was associated with men who indulged in smoking and was dependent on tobacco and nicotine. But with the changing lifestyle and environmental factors, there seems to be a shift in the entire scenario, more non-smokers and even women started to get this cancer. Lung cancer is on a rise because of multiple factors and one of them is smoking, which is showing a rising trend even in the number of women smokers. The second reason is air pollution. Air in most of the cities in our country is heavily polluted. We spoke to Dr Arvind Kumar, Chairman, Center for Chest Surgery and Director, Institute of Robotic Surgery at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital (SGRH) New Delhi to know why women and non-smokers are falling prey to lung cancer.

In India, the number of women suffering from lung cancer is on a rise and soon it will be at par with men at number 1 position, can we share data on the growing incidence observed?

As of now, lung cancer is the third most affected cancer in women whereas breast and cervix cancer are the ones which have more victims. But the different cancer registries are reporting the increase in the incidence of lung cancer and are seeing more and more females with lung cancer these days. Women who are non-smokers with non-smoker husband are more at risk of passive smoking it doing the damage. Even with increasing number of women smokers, more women are making themselves vulnerable to cancer.

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What are the leading causes of lung cancer among women?

Apart from smoking and passive smoking, indoor air pollution could be a reason. Many of these women who suffer from lung cancer are from rural backgrounds who do cooking with biomass fuel in their houses or are subjected to it in one way or the other. So probably biomass fuel exposure, indoor air pollution is what is making more women prone to lung cancer. Then there is the overall ambient air pollution which is affecting them as much as it is affecting men.

Is there any specific age category of women being affected? And can we share some data?

Women who are in their 40s, 50s and 60s are affected more than the younger ones.

Today, non-smokers are also adding to the rise in lung cancer cases, in this regards, what are the reasons observed and can we share data to substantiate the same?

There is an increase in the incidence of lung cancer and have one of the major reason is increase in pollution levels, there is a conversion which says when you inhale fine particulate matter PM 2.5 (a potent air pollutant) of 22.5 mg in terms of its damaging effect on the lung it is equivalent to 1 cigarette. If you have a PM 2.5 of say 200mg then it's equal to about 10 cigarettes a day. So if somebody is born and living in a city with an average air PM 2.5 of 200 +, he is smoking 10 cigarettes from day 1 of his life. There is no true non-smoker; all these non-smokers are also smoking because of inhaling the polluted air. So this is what is leading to rising in lung cancer in non-smokers. It's not only about lung cancer all other lung diseases like Asthma, COPD, Bullous Lung Diseases, Pneumothorax, including infections as well as Tuberculosis which tend to occur with higher frequency in the polluted damaged lung, this is why all the lung problems are on the rise and the cause is increasing air pollution.

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