The number of lung cancer cases in China is sky high, with some patients as young as eight years old.
An 8-year-old girl in the heavily industrialized Jiangsu province and a 14-year-old girl from smog-choked Shanghai are both undergoing treatment for lung cancer.
A physician at Shanghai's Zhongshan Hospital, Bai Chunxue, tells the Los Angeles Times that it is not uncommon to see teens being treated, who have no history of lung cancer in their family, they do not smoke, and their parents are nonsmokers.
"When I see patients who are not smokers with no other risk factors, we have to assume that the most probable cause is pollution," said Bai, chairman of the Shanghai Respiratory Research Institute.
Nationwide the number of lung cancer deaths in China has increased 465 percent in three decades.
From 2002 to 2011, the Beijing municipal health bureau reported lung cancer cases in Beijing rose from 39.6 to 63 cases per 100,000 people.
Meanwhile, cigarette smoking has decreased in the country since 1996, with only about half of adult Chinese males smoking.
China’s pollution is attributed to rapid economic expansion and lack of enforcement when it comes to environmental protection.
Smog engulfs industrialized areas, much like the London smog of 1952, which lasted five days and lead to about 12,000 premature deaths. The London smog was the result of coal burning, which is still a main energy source in China.
China appears weary of blaming cancer deaths on pollution, instead of smoking.
"Ten years ago, it was sensitive to talk about smoking because the tobacco industry was so important to the Chinese economy. Now it feels safe to talk about smoking. But for pollution, people are not prepared to talk about it," Wei Zhang, a Chinese-born cancer researcher at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, told The Times.
The World Health Organization says air pollution kills about 3.2 million people per year, with 223,000 from lung cancer. Half of those cases are in Asia.
"More than half of the lung cancer deaths attributable to ambient fine particles were projected to have been in China and other East Asian countries," said WHO.