Poison in Bengaluru air: 60% lung cancer patients are non-smokers

Air pollution, exposure to radiation and passive smoking are the major contributing factors to the rising cases

Radha, 54, complained of a sudden hoarseness in her voice and chronic cough only to be diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Her family was devastated and shocked in equal measure. A doctor herself, Radha led a healthy lifestyle and was a non-smoker. A year later, she succumbed to the killer disease.

When Karthik, 45, a software engineer and a fitness freak, visited a city hospital with pain in the right side of his chest, radiology reports revealed water accumulation in his right lung. The biopsy report threw up a shocker — the techie had adenocarcinoma and the cancer had progressed to its third stage.

“His survival chances are only 30% and he may not live beyond five years,” said the oncologist treating Karthik, also a non-smoker.

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Pic courtesy: hourdose.com

Contrary to the notion that smoking is the prime cause of lung cancer, city doctors say 30% to 60% of the patients are non-smokers. Most of them are women. Air pollution, exposure to radiation and passive smoking are the contributing factors.

“Of the 500 patients walking into the hospital with lung cancer, at least 200 are non-smokers. The incidence has gone up from 5-6 persons (for a population of 1,00,000) to 12-13 in Bengaluru. In Delhi, the figure stands at 16-17 persons,” said Dr C Ramesh, professor and head of the epidemiology and biostatistics department at Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology.

Dr Neelesh Reddy, consultant oncologist, Columbia Asia hospitals, pointed out that women are at a higher risk. If a man and woman smoke an equal number of cigarettes, it’s the woman who is more susceptible to the cancer, he said.

Doctors say though most patients diagnosed with lung cancer are from urban and semi-urban areas, the incidence is rising among the rural population as well. “Many cases are not registered due to the lack of proper healthcare facilities in rural areas,” Dr Reddy added. According to Dr Ramesh, indoor pollution caused by asbestos and smoke is to blame.

Doctors feel the ban on smoking in public places should be implemented more effectively. They also say in over 80% of the cases, the disease is diagnosed only at an advanced stage. “The government should start screening programmes for both smokers and non-smokers, who should be made to undergo low-dose chest CT scans,” said Dr BS Ajaikumar, chairman and CEO, Healthcare Global Enterprises Limited (HCG Cancer Hospital).

Dr Vivek Anand Padegal, consultant pulmonologist, Fortis Hospital, said many non-smokers respond better to chemotherapy and other forms of treatment compared to smokers. “Access to oral chemotherapy should be made easier and more affordable,” he said.

(Some names have been changed)

No screening programme

There is no proper screening programme for lung cancer and oral cancer, which has the highest incidence in India. We must educate people about personal hygiene and ways to avoid pollution and passive smoking. People shouldn’t wait for the symptoms to show up and instead, go for annual check-ups. On anniversaries and birthdays, one can gift a lung cancer check-up voucher to their dear ones.

Source: Times of India