How Did an 8-Year-Old in China Get Lung Cancer?

Written by Ari Phillips

In an official Chinese news report, doctors have diagnosed an 8-year-old girl with lung cancer and attributed the cause to air pollution. The girl, who remained unnamed, is the youngest ever to be diagnosed with lung cancer in China. According to the American Cancer Society, the average age for people acquiring the disease is about 70-years-old.

The girl is from the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu, which borders Shanghai and is home to the world’s leading exporters of electronic equipment, chemicals and textiles. All the factories in the area make it one of the most polluted outside of northern China.

According to The New York Times, the report on the girl quoted Dr. Feng Dongjie, of Jiangsu Tumor Hospital in Nanjing where the girl is being treated, as saying that fine particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, could lead to inflammation once it accrues in the lungs and result in malignant changes.

Recent research from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization, definitively linked air pollution to cancer and officially classified it as a carcinogen. IARC’s research found that in 2010 alone exposure to ambient fine particles was estimated to have contributed to 223,000 deaths from lung cancer, with more than half of those deaths projected to have been in China and other East Asian countries.

Another recent study, this one in Nature Climate Change, found that up to three million premature deaths could be avoided each year globally by 2100 if aggressive emissions cuts are made. By reducing carbon emissions, the study states that the world will also reduce “co-pollutants” such as ozone and particulates.

“It is pretty striking that you can make an argument purely on health grounds to control climate change,” said Jason West, one of the study’s lead authors.

In urban China the arguments for improving air quality are rarely far from sight. This year fine particulate matter has been of special concern as devastatingly smoggy conditions in northern China have caused spells of reduced visibility to less than 50 yards in some areas. Conditions like this can force school closings, road congestion and even flight cancellations. Immediate impacts like this result in public demand for change, and thus government reaction.

Last week China’s Health Ministry announced China will begin measuring not just PM2.5 concentrations, but also the long-term impacts of chronic air pollution on human health.

Shanghai, near the 8-year-old’s hometown, also recently vowed to reduce annual average PM 2.5 concentrations by 20 percent from 2012 levels by 2017. The public will have access to the data on this process, so there is a degree of public accountability that holds the government responsible for its promises.

This post was originally published in ThinkProgress

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Donna Ferguson
Donna F4 years ago

very sad!

Franck R.
Past Member 4 years ago


Janet Gibbon
Janet G4 years ago

This comes from Nation Geographic and the 8 year old girl is the youngest person to be diagnosed with cancer causer by pollution. Breathing in the industrial particles that are part of the smog. A large part of China's industrial output/carbon footprint is for western consumption. Much of this in varying amount of time ends up as garbage.
We're constantly (often aggressively) being encouraged to join the juggernaut of consumerism. Buy, buy, buy as much stuff as the sales team can manipulate the populace into buying (the art of advertising using many forms of psychological ploys). Not because the buyers really need the vast majority of stuff out there, it's the riches they provide for the few. The unforeseen consequence of the industrial revolution was the path towards climate change. One we walked slowly at first, the damage only being noticed in the local area (high mortality rates in industrial centres), they we accelerated production and went from jogging to now running. The cliff of irreversible, inhospitable for human life type climate change is looming large and soon if the consumer and disposable cultures aren't seen for the con they are.

Laura R.
Laura R4 years ago

very sad...

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W4 years ago

Kate, read Will's comment!

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W4 years ago


Lorraine Andersen

unfortunately it will only get worse before it gets any better. China lives is one of the most polluted countries, but the pollution will spread.

Danuta Watola
Danuta W4 years ago

thanks for sharing

Margaret Goodman
Margaret Goodman4 years ago

Julie W. wrote,
".... I saw two men from the Chinese government on Australian TV a while ago.When questioned about pollution, they actually said that the economy was more important than the environment. Outrageous!"

What's outrageous to me is that this short sighted thinking is world wide and is especially strong in the conservatives of the United States, Canada, and Australia.

Kate Raymond
Past Member 4 years ago

A single child getting lung cancer, despite being tragic, is NOT proof of the deadliness of the air quality. Please stop confusing correlation with causality.