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News Article

Smoking, Firewood Burning Among the Top Causes of Lung Cancer

By Miriam Bello | Tue, 04/05/2022 - 17:01

Every April 5, Mexico observes the National Lung Cancer Day to raise awareness on this deadly disease, an important challenge for public health and one of the main causes of death in the country.

Lung cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer in men and the third most commonly occurring cancer in women. In 2020 it was estimated that around 2 million people suffered from lung cancer, with 7,811 new cases registered that year and 6,744 deaths caused by this disease.

The high mortality rate can be partially explained by its asymptomatic, "silent" characteristics during its early stages, which delays detection, explains the National Public Health Institute (INSP). Lung cancer is diagnosed during its early stages in 0.6 percent of cases. Diagnosis rates climb to 24 percent in the locally advanced stage and to about 65 percent in stage four or critical period.

About 71 percent of lung cancer cases are related to smoking, according to the Ministry of Health. Exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke, radon gas and smoke from wood and solid fuels are other important factors that increase the risk of developing this disease. The disease is fifth in medical cause of death in the country and 60 percent of lung cancer deaths occur in men.

Compared to other countries, smoking rates are low in Mexico, with a total average of 13.9 percent among adults. About 21.2 percent of Mexican men smoke, as do  6.5 percent of Mexican women.  

In Latin America, Chile has the highest smoking rate, placing the country in the global Top 5 of smoking rates. Chile reports a lung cancer mortality rate of 34.3 percent and the disease has been the ninth cause of death for over a decade.

Exposure to woodsmoke is also linked to lung cancer. In Mexico, burning firewood and charcoal for cooking and heat is still a common practice associated with ancestral culinary traditions and to poverty. Those living in poverty, according to Mexico Social, find it next to impossible to acquire gas or electric stoves, and to pay for these services. As of 2020, Chiapas, Oaxaca and Guerrero had the highest rates of households that still used firewood for cooking. These three states host the municipalities with the highest percentage of the population living in poverty in the country, according to the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (CONEVAL).

Photo by:   Lê Tit on Unsplash
Miriam Bello Miriam Bello Senior Journalist and Industry Analyst