The links between air quality and cardio-pulmonary disease have been well-documented. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed that long-term air pollution exposure also causes inflammatory responses in the lungs that can lead to the most severe cases of COVID disease. But even before COVID, approximately 7 million people died from air pollution every year and it takes years off the human lifespan in countries such as Pakistan with consistently poor air quality.
Climate change further worsens regional air pollution due to increased formation of fine particulate matter, ozone, and wildfire-related smoke, a trend that will likely continue for the foreseeable future.
The pulmonary diseases that are tied most commonly to air pollution are asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, pulmonary fibrosis, and hypertension. But could some lung cancers also be tied to air pollution?
Lung cancer is a tricky disease. Most people can find a story of the person who smokes two packs of cigarettes a day and lives into their nineties, or the converse story of a young person who dies of lung cancer, even though they never took a puff in their life. Those aberrations are largely driven by genes, but in general, smoking significantly increases lung cancer risk due to particulates and chemicals in the smoke. In a similar vein, particulates and chemicals from air pollution may also be expected to have some influence over populations that are burdened by air pollution, thus putting them at higher risk of lung cancer.