Exposure to Wildfires Poses Serious Risk for Lung Cancer Patients: Study

Researchers found that lung cancer patients exposed to wildfires faced a 43% increased risk of death within the first three months following surgery

Lung cancer patients recovering from surgery face a higher risk of dying if they are exposed to wildfire smoke, according to the findings of a new study, which may provide important information about efforts to prioritize the relocation of certain individuals near spreading fires.

Widespread areas of the United States face an increasing risk of wildfire activity as a result of climate change, and there are growing concerns about the side effects of wildfires exposure, which increases the level of ambient air pollution.

Tiny particulate matter released into the air around wildfires can easily pass to the bloodstream, and often contains harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other substances that research has linked to long-term health risks.

Prior research on the effects of air pollution have found that particulate matter can increase a person’s risk of cardiac arrest and increase a person’s risk of early death. However, there has been little research on the specific health risks with exposure to wildfires.

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In a study published last week in the journal JAMA Oncology, researchers from Emory University found that recovering lung cancer surgery patients face a greater risk of death if they live in areas affected by wildfires. Those risks persist up to one year after surgery, they determined.

Researchers conducted a cohort study of nearly 467,000 patients who underwent curative-intent surgical resection of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) from 2004 to 2019. Patients were selected from the National Cancer Database.

They then looked at the patients’ exposure to wildfires using zip code data and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Fire Information for Resource Management System.

According to the findings, 10.4% of patients were exposed to a wildfire between 0 to 3 months after lung surgery. Another 10.6% were exposed between 4 and 6 months, and 15.3% between 7 and 12 months.

Patients exposed to wildfire smoke within 3 months faced a 43% increased risk of early death. Patients who were exposed to wildfire smoke between 4 to 6 months after surgery faced a 39% higher risk of death within one year of surgery, and patients who were exposed to wildfire smoke between 7 to 12 months after surgery faced a 17% increased risk of death.

The researchers concluded that patients exposed to smoke from wildfires after surgical discharge following stage I and stage III NSCLC resection had worse survival rates than patients who were not exposed to wildfire smoke, the researchers concluded.

Preventing Wildfire Exposure Risks

Given the effects on residents exposed to air pollution from wildfires, researchers noted it is especially important to prioritize the health of lung cancer patients exposed to wildfire smoke.

They indicated that doctors can help reduce the risk of a lung cancer patient exposed to wildfires by identifying medically high-risk lung cancer patients as part of disaster preparedness and response efforts during wildfires.

Doctors can also recommend air filters to lung cancer patients who recently underwent surgery and help transfer for patients out of affected areas, even if only for a short period during the initial recovery.

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