A continuous increase in the amount of pollutants in air, water and soil is also a reason for the increase in the incidence of cancer in the country. Studies have proven beyond doubt that several pollutants are carcinogenic in nature and are directly linked to several cancers, said Dr Swarupa Mitra, Senior Consultant and Chief of Gynaecological and Genitourinary Radiation Oncology at Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute & Research Centre (RGCIRC) New Delhi.

Cancer is caused by mutated genes. These pollutants could potentially cause cancer by either causing defects in the DNA repair or altering the immune response or by sparking inflammation and new blood vessel formation, added Dr Mitra.

Benzene, Asbestos, Vinyl Chloride, Cadmium, Nitrates, Coal tar, tobacco smoke and industrial smoke are some of the known pollutants that are carcinogenic and can cause cancer. Nitrates in the underground water leads to colon, stomach and kidney cancer. Vinyl chloride is linked to liver and lung cancers while arsenic is linked to blood, lung and skin cancers. . Benzene causes leukemia and asbestos is a causative agent for lung cancer. Pollution as a factor behind childhood cancer is also under study.

Recently, a study at Dr B Borooah Cancer Institute Guwahati proved that rise in lung cancer in India, in spite of a decline in smoking, is probably due to rise in air pollution levels.

According to Dr Mitra, tobacco smoke is directly linked to more than 40% of cancers and is immensely preventable if one shuns smoking.

Not everyone who is exposed such pollutants is going to get cancer. It depends upon the intensity and duration of exposure, genetic make-up and immunity levels of a person. Dr Mitra therefore advised trying not adding to the pollution, minimise exposure, lead a disciplined healthy life and bring lifestyle changes especially quitting of tobacco.

She said the theme of “Ecosystem Restoration “ for this year’s World Environment Day is very apt and needs to be adhered to for not only preventing cancer but several other diseases related to degradation in environment.