As a lung cancer surgeon, I am acutely aware of the major factors that impact my patients’ health – including air pollution. The devastating wildfires of 2020 that blanketed our air with smoke were a painful reminder how quickly the air can become deadly. Wildfires are a source of particle pollution, which harms health in many ways, including causing lung cancer, the #1 cancer killer of both men and women in the U.S.

The evidence of associations among lung cancer, air pollution and climate change continues to grow. A recent study by University of California, San Francisco researchers concluded that climate change will result in higher rates of cancer, especially lung cancer, due to rising temperatures, wildfires and poor air quality.  

The lung cancer community is speaking out about the health impacts of climate change. The International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC), a global network of clinicians, scientists and patient advocates dedicated to the study and eradication of lung cancer and other thoracic malignancies, published an article by Joan Schiller, M.D., “Global Warming, COVID-19, and Lung Cancer: Why Lung Cancer Doctors Should Care About Climate Change.” Dr. Schiller was also co-author of an editorial in the American Society of Clinical Oncology Journal, “Why Oncologists Should Care About Climate Change.”

Lung cancer patients are also making the connection between air pollution and lung cancer and the need to address climate change. This article by a lung cancer survivor, “West Coast Wildfires as a Lung Cancer Survivor,” was published by LUNGevity.

As a volunteer national spokesperson for the American Lung Association and one of its Health Professionals for Clean Air and Climate Action, I have joined dozens of other health professionals in speaking out for strong clean air and climate action. Here is my statement:

Too many of our patients surviving lung diseases are being sickened by air pollution. Dirty air increases the risk of lung cancer, not to mention heart disease and asthma, and diminishes quality of life. We stand in support of our state's clean air laws. Californians all across our great state are taking action for the health of our families, our friends and our children.

I end my statement with the question, “Will you stand with us to save our clean air laws?”

In the Health Professionals for Clean Air and Climate Action community, all of us have personal and professional connections to air pollution and climate change. Whether it is smoke from wildfires, floods from hurricanes, longer and worsening allergy seasons, heat and drought, increases in vector borne diseases, or threats to food safety and basic public health infrastructure, the climate crisis will continue to impact all of our patients and all of our communities. We have a moral obligation to raise our voice in our communities and reach out to our political leaders to help us and take action.

Climate change is in the lane of public health professionals, and our voice is needed. Just like we speak out about the need for flu shots and COVID-19 vaccines, we must also speak out for action on climate change. We are the voice of science and must use that voice to protect our patients and communities from the growing impacts of climate change.

Here are some actions you can take today to raise your voice in support of strong clean air and climate laws:

  • Join Health Professionals for Clean Air and Climate Action by signing up for our monthly newsletter.
  • Add your name to the Health Professional Declaration on Climate Change here.
  • Share your story about why fighting climate change is important to you here.
  • Host a virtual film screening to show a film on the health impacts of air pollution and climate change – learn more here.

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