Lung cancer: top killer in the game

Lung cancer: top killer in the game

A man smokes cigarette in Bengaluru. DH Photo/ B H Shivakumar

In the early 20th century, lung cancer was a rare disease with less than 5 per 1,00,000 people affected by the disease. Today, the incidence of lung cancer has gradually inched up becoming one of the most common types of cancers in the world. According to statistics revealed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), lung cancer is the biggest cancer killer claiming 7.6 lives globally each year.

In India too, the prevalence of lung cancer is high with an estimated 63,000 new lung cancer cases detected every year. Therefore, the urgency to spread awareness against this type of cancer and the need to educate people on getting tested in case they experience symptoms or fall in high-risk categories becomes amply clear.

Lung cancer occurs when a series of mutations in normal lung cells become abnormal and grow out of control. These mutations can happen anywhere from the windpipe down to the small air sacs in the periphery of the lungs, where oxygen exchange takes place. The deadly disease that was once common in men, now affects an equal number of women too.

While smoking cigarette and beedi are the most common causes of lung cancer, there is a combination of several other factors that increases the risk of the disease. The increasing prevalence of smoking in men and women has resulted in lung cancer increasing rampantly, with 2,500 deaths estimated every day due to tobacco-related diseases.

As per statistics shown on, 87% of men and 85% of women in India with lung cancer have a history of active tobacco smoking. In India, beedi smoking is equally rampant with the contents in a beedi being more carcinogenic than those in a cigarette.

However, non-smoking-related variations are also on an epidemic high, with one non-smoking lung cancer patient for every smoking lung-cancer patient, as reported in a study conducted by Sir Ganga Ram Hospital (SGRH), New Delhi.

Apart from tobacco products, air pollution, industrial products such as uranium, radiation and asbestos and nutritional deficiencies are some of the reasons that play a critical role in cancer development.

A lot of young men and women who are non-smokers are falling prey to the disease either due to the long-term respiration of carcinogenic materials or increasing air pollution. After several research and observations, it was revealed that environmental pollution had a bigger role to play in lung cancer incidence.

Given the poor air quality with toxins released from vehicles and factories, lung cancer is becoming a major healthcare problem in India. The WHO has declared that India is home to the 14 most polluted towns in the world, thereby shooting up the cases of respiratory diseases in the country.

Signs of lung cancer

The signs and symptoms of lung cancer can vary in every person and can be visible only when the disease reaches the advanced stage. The uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells forms tumours that can be benign or malignant.

Some of the common symptoms of lung cancer are constant chest pain, shortness of breath, a cough that doesn’t go away and worsens over time, coughing up blood, wheezing, bone pain, regular headaches, fatigue, finger clubbing, and neck and face swelling.

To a great extent, lung cancer is preventable and the risks can be reduced by following the steps: 

1) Quitting smoking is one of the most effective ways to cut down your chances of ever developing lung cancer.

2) Avoiding secondhand smoke. According to a study, over 50% of pregnant women in developing countries are exposed to secondhand smoke, which increases the risks of stillbirth, congenital malformations, low birth-weight and respiratory illnesses. 

3) Cutting down exposure to asbestos fibres, dust and other carcinogens. Asbestos is a set of six naturally occurring fibrous minerals widely used in house construction materials and automobile parts and textiles. It has been directly and scientifically linked to lung cancer and other respiratory conditions.

4) Staying physically active by following exercises or yoga regularly.

5) Eating a healthy diet consisting of a variety of fruits and vegetables.

(The writer is Head of Operations, DocsApp Medical App)