Lung Cancer, Air Pollution and Climate Change – A Call to Action

Healthcare professionals have been on the frontline taking care of patients experiencing the impact of climate change and air pollution. The incidence of health issues attributed to the climate changesuch as the exposure to higher ozone and particle pollution levels, global warming, wildfires, and natural calamities like storms is rising across the world.  These factors are the major cause of concern for maintaining pulmonary health.

Medical professionals working closely with the experts in the field of pulmonary medicine are aware of how these climatic factors are creating an adverse impact on the pulmonary health of people of all age groups. Recently, in 2020, the devastating wildfires were reported in several parts of the world. These wildfires blanketed the air with smoke bringing in a painful reminder of how quickly the air we breathe could become deadly.

Wildfires are a major source of particle pollution that can harm pulmonary health in numerous ways. It may increase the risk of lung cancer, which is one of the common forms of cancer with a very high risk of mortality in both men and women across the world.

There is evidence of an association between the high risk of lung cancer, and climatic factors such as air pollution and global warming.  The climate changes, especially rising temperatures, poor air quality, and wildfires, are feared to bring about an alarming rise in the incidence of cancers, especially lung cancer.

Hence, there is a need to assess the impact of these factors on pulmonary health and follows a systematic approach in collaboration with environmentalist to improve the air qualityand prevent further adverse climatic changes.

Our respiratory webinars are aimed at providing information about how climatic factors can affect pulmonary health and put patients at a risk of chronic lung diseases including lung cancer, COPD, emphysema, and asthma.

How can air pollution contribute to the development of cancer?

Exposure to the harmful toxic elements in the air could increase the risk of lung cancer by trigging inflammation in the air passages and alveoli.

It has been found that the average air pollution level in the UK is lower than that of most other developed countries. This could be correlated with a comparatively lower rise in the risk of cancer in people residing in the UK as against the much higher rise in the risk of patients who live in areas having a high level of pollution.

A very high number of patients with lung cancer have smoking, both active and passive, as a contributory factor indicating the possibility of developing lung cancer due to the exposure to indoor air pollution as well.

This suggests that air pollution could mean outdoor as well as indoor pollution. Both of these may increase the risk of cancer as well as other respiratory and cardiac diseases.

What is indoor air pollution?

Indoor air pollution can arise from several sources such as cooking, second-hand smoke from cigarettes, and burning of coal or wood to heat homes. Exposure to second-hand smoke usually occurs in the home. It is particularly dangerous for pregnant women and children.

What is outdoor air pollution?

The outdoor air pollution comprises a mixture of small dust-like particles and other harmful elements in the air. This form of pollution often occurs through man-made sources, such as fumes from the factories and vehicles and the smoke from burning fuel such as coal and wood. It also includes some natural sources of pollution like wind-blown dust.

The risk of cancer associated with the exposure to outdoor air pollution

Outdoor air pollution is estimated to contribute to nearly 1 in 10 cases of pulmonary cancers. However, smoking has also been found to produce a huge adverse effect on the risk of developing pulmonary cancer. The risk of lung cancer is higher in patients who smoke than those who are exposed to a high level of air pollution.

There are several different ways by which the particles in air pollution can cause damage to the DNA in the cells causing lung cancer. For instance, the tiny particles can build up in the lungs and modify the way the cells replicate. This can result in damage to the DNA thus triggering the development of pulmonary cancer.

The risk of pulmonary cancer associated with the exposure to the outdoor air pollution

Compared to the US and other developed nations, the UK has a lower level of outdoor pollution. And the level of most air pollutants including the particulate matter has been found to be within the recommended limits in the UK. However, these levels tend to peak and drop during different seasons and during different times of the year.

The air pollution levels tend to be very high in the US contributing to a higher incidence of lung cancers in this country.

How can we reduce pollution and avoid adverse climatic changes?

Healthcare professionals can work in collaboration with environmentalists to create awareness about the impact of air pollution and climatic changes to help people take necessary steps to minimize their risk of lung cancers.

For example; doctors can advise patients to walk or cycle to the office instead of driving to reduce pollution levels while being more active. Patients should also be educated about the health risks involved in smoking and provided the guidance needed to quit the habit.


It is essential for healthcare professionals to be aware of how indoor and outdoor pollution and climatic changes can affect the pulmonary health of their patients making them vulnerable to developing chronic lung diseases. Nurses/Doctors can attend our Live Respiratory Conferences to learn what advice or suggestions they can give to their patients to help them minimize their exposure to pollution.

Climate change is now in the lane of healthcare professionals. Just like we make effort to create awareness about the need to take flu shots or COVID-19 vaccines, we also need to speak about the need to take action on climate change. You can attend our AARC approved CEU’s to learn more about the impact of climate and pollution on lung health so that you can provide the right advice and treatment to your patients and protect them against potential complications.