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4 ways you could get lung cancer even if you don't smoke

These four things could be as dangerous as cigarettes.

Written by Debjani Arora |Updated : June 4, 2015 6:27 PM IST

You know that smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. Every year millions of lives are lost due to tobacco addiction and smoking tops the list. But smoking is not the only culprit causing lung cancer; here Dr Salil Bendre, Head of Department, Pulmonary medicine Nanavati Hospital, Mumbai, explains some of the other risk factors that you should know about.

Passive smoking:People who inhale second-hand smoke expose themselves to the harmful chemical nicotine responsible for predisposing non-smokers to lung cancer. The first global study on passive smoking estimated that it causes 600,000 deaths every year. One-third of those killed are children who inhale the smoke at home, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated. Know why being a passive smoker puts you at a higher risk for lung cancer.

Occupational hazards: Exposure to chemical dyes, especially for those working in factories or shipping industry who are likely to inhale hydrocarbons, carcinogens like asbestos, radon, etc., are at also at risk. Apart from that pollution in the air takes a toll on our lungs. The pollutants present in the atmosphere as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are highly reactive. With the help of sunlight, they form secondary pollutants. These pollutants are in a way responsible for the increasing number of lung cancer patients in the country. Here are 10 common symptoms of lung cancer you need to know.

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Alternative options to smoking: Hookas, e-cigarette or other such alternative options are as harmful as smoking. Even if it doesn t use any combustion method, nicotine is passed in the form of vapour and reaches the chest. In fact, researchers at the University of Athens, Greece, found that continuous use of e-cigarette led to increase in airway resistance in the users. There are a lot of studies underway to check the efficacy of the e-cigarette. Know the real reason e-cigarettes are bad for your lungs.

Faulty genes: Whether your genes are directly or indirectly involved in making you predisposed to lung cancer is not known yet. But research by three independent groups of scientists has shown that a region on a particular chromosome 15 if mutated, can increase one s risk of lung cancer. Also read, the gene responsible for lung cancer discovered.

Why non-smokers are more at risk

Lung cancer is of two types small cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Smokers usually get what is called small cell carcinoma that progresses slowly and if detected early can be operated and removed. Squamous cell carcinoma progresses rapidly and patients may need more advanced treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy. As these therapies suppress their immune system, it makes them prone to other infections and illness. So when non-smokers suffer from lung cancer, it becomes difficult to manage.

Danger signs

With lung cancer, early detection is the key to prevention. Here are the signs that you should not ignore:

  • Persistent cough that lingers for months
  • Change in voice or hoarseness
  • Constant chest pain, shoulder pain and upper back pain for no particular rhyme or reason
  • Wheezing or shortness of breath
  • Blood in phlegm
  • Recurrent pneumonia or bronchitis
  • Weight loss or lack of appetite
  • Abnormal breast growth in men

What can be done?

According to Dr Bendre, lung cancer due to occupational limitations and environmental factors can be prevented by:

  • Use a mask in areas that have high level of pollutants and chemicals.
  • Don t re-use a mask that is for one-time use.
  • Use protective gear like specialised jackets, helmets and gloves if you work in factories where there is a high level of exposure to chemicals.
  • Go for a screening every six months for early detection in the .

Image source: Shutterstock

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