Scientists have discovered a new mechanism through which very small pollutant particles in the air may trigger lung cancer in people who have never smoked,

Particles linked to climate change also promote cancerous changes in airway cells, they found, paving the way to new approaches for lung cancer prevention and treatment.

Scientists of the Francis Crick Institute and University College London, funded by Cancer Research UK, presented the data at the ‘ESMO Congress 2022’.

According to them, the particles which are typically found in vehicle exhaust and smoke from fossil fuels, are associated with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) risk, accounting for over 250,000 lung cancer deaths globally per year.

“The same particles in the air that derive from the combustion of fossil fuels, exacerbating climate change, are directly impacting human health via an important and previously overlooked cancer-causing mechanism in lung cells,” they informed.

The risk of lung cancer from air pollution is lower than from smoking, “but we have no control over what we all breathe”.

“Globally, more people are exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution than to toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke, and these new data link the importance of addressing climate health to improving human health,” said Charles Swanton from the Francis Crick Institute.

The new findings are based on human and laboratory research on mutations in a gene called EGFR which are seen in about half of people with lung cancer who have never smoked.