Among the list of modern evils, there’s nothing worse than smoking! But, did you know that lung cancer can be caused by a number of other factors too? Anindra Siqueira & Jagruti Verma tell you more about lung cancer in non-smokers
In this day and age, everyone knows about the dangers of smoking. The alarming videos shown in theatres before films, the images on packets — it’s all etched in our minds. And, while most people may judge those affected by lung cancer harshly (after all, they should have known better, right?), the condition can also arise due to a variety of factors other than smoking. So, although it’s portrayed as one of the leading causes of cancer, tobacco use isn’t the only one on the list. Here are a few more factors that increase your risk of getting lung cancer.
You’ve seen the ads — smoking kills. But, so does being passive about it. According to Cancer Research UK, passive smoking can increase a non-smoker’s risk of getting lung cancer by a quarter. In fact, several organisations, such as the U.S. National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, classify second-hand smoke as a known human carcinogen. Besides, breathing in second-hand smoke can lead to other problems, including throat, breast and nasal sinus cavity cancer. It’s time to cut your smoke break conversations.
Your family tree
Although there’s no evidence that genetics can lead directly to lung cancer in non-smokers, it can increase your risk. While several studies have been performed to see whether lung cancer can be triggered by genetic factors, there is still some disagreement among researchers regarding the triggers, and while genetics isn’t the end all when it comes to lung cancer, it seems that it does play a role. In general, if a first degree relative — a parent, sibling or child — has or has had lung cancer, it increases your risk by 50%.
Breathing in polluted air may put you at a higher risk of suffering from respiratory tract problems, but it can also increase your risk of lung cancer, although that risk is small. A panel of experts convened by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that there was enough evidence to link outdoor air pollution with lung cancer.
Radon is a colourless, odourless gas that is produced during the decay of certain radioactive elements, a completely natural occurrence. Nearly all air contains radon (in really small amounts) and everyone breathes it in every day, usually at very low concentrations. While it can collect in homes and build up to larger concentrations, this only occurs in homes that have been built on land that is rich in uranium and other radioactive elements. So, while present, the threat from radon is extremely small.
Next to inhaling cigarette smoke, exposure to industrial chemicals is the most serious factor in lung cancer risk. One study by Italian researchers, which appeared in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, found that being exposed to asbestos significantly increases your odds of getting lung cancer.
Lung cancer is thought to be linked with exposure to diesel exhaust fumes. Studies have shown that there is a small risk from exposure. However, this mostly applies to those exposed heavily, such as railroad workers, miners and truck drivers. According to the American Cancer Society, the possible link between lung cancer and exposure and diesel exhaust outside the workplace has not been studied extensively.
Signs that tell you something isn’t right
Trust your body when it tells you that something is wrong. Here are a few symptoms of the lung issues you should be looking out for, if you are a non-smoker.
Persistent cough: A cough is not usually anything to worry about. But, if it is a persistent one that lasts for a couple of months, and is eventually accompanied by blood, don’t ignore it.
Respiratory problems: If you suffer from respiratory ailments on a regular basis, it’s a good idea to get diagnosed as it could signal a more serious issue.
Weakened immunity: One thing that’s most common to different types of cancer is the breakdown of the body’s immune response. So, if you find yourself falling ill often, it is a good idea to get a proper check-up.