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Lynne Eldridge MD

Indoor Air Pollution as a Cause for Lung Cancer

By January 31, 2013

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When I think about exposure to contaminated air, I usually think about outdoor air pollution. And outdoor air pollution is indeed one of the causes of lung cancer.


But indoor air can be a problem as well. In fact, indoor air pollution appears to play a very important role in whether or not someone develops lung cancer - at least among non-smoking women in China.

Researchers looked at 399 Chinese women who had developed lung cancer, and compared them with 466 women who didn't have lung cancer. Over 40% (164) of the women with lung cancer had never smoked. They then compared the two groups with respect to both particulate matter in the indoor air they were breathing, and characteristics of their homes.

Sources of indoor air pollution (particulate matter) included:

  • Environmental tobacco smoke at work
  • High frequency of cooking
  • Solid fuel usage for cooking
  • Coal stove heating

Home characteristics associated with higher risk included:

  • Poor ventilation
  • Single story homes
  • No separate kitchen area in the home
  • Less window area
  • Less frequent opening of windows

With all of the discussion about smoking and lung cancer, it seems we forget how important it is to look for causes of lung cancer other than smoking. This study was conducted in China, but in the United States 20% of women who develop lung cancer have never smoked.

If we are going to make a difference in the number of people diagnosed every year in the United States it's important that we look carefully at all possible causes of lung cancer. And, since it's winter and an ideal time to check your home for radon, if you haven't yet taken this easy step to avoid the second leading cause of lung cancer (and the leading cause in non-smokers), there's no time like today.

Further Reading:

Photo: flickr.com, user The-Lane-Team


Mu, L. et al. Indoor air pollution and risk of lung cancer among Chinese female non-smokers. Cancer Causes and Control. 2013 Jan 12. (Epub ahead of print)

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