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Causes and Risk Factors of Lung Cancer

Lung Cancer Risk Factors

When it comes to lung cancer, anyone can get it— and unfortunately, there are several risk factors that can leave you more susceptible than others. Some risk factors, such as smoking, are more obvious than others. But it’s those not-so-obvious ones you should be aware of, too. We encourage you to read through the following information so you can be better equipped to make better lifestyle choices that could lower your risk of developing lung cancer.

Smoking 

Smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer. In fact, according to the American Lung Association, approximately 80-90% of lung cancers in the United States are linked to cigarette smoking. The risk, of course, goes up with the number of years and packs per day you smoke. This means that you can significantly lower your risk of developing lung cancer the sooner you quit smoking.

Although cigar and pipe smoking are also linked to the development of lung cancer, the risk may be lower in people who do not also smoke cigarettes. This, of course, varies based on the level of inhalation and quantity smoked per day. 

Electronic cigarettes (vapes) are considered by many to be a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes. This, however, isn’t really accurate. In fact, there is growing evidence that shows vaping can have some long-term effects that are similar to tobacco smoking. In addition to nicotine, e-cigarettes contain other toxic chemicals that can damage the lungs. The best option is quitting all smoking-related habits.

Learn how you can quit smoking.

Even non-smokers can be at an increased risk if they inhale the smoke of others. This smoke from other people’s cigarettes, pipes, or cigars is called secondhand smoke. In 2006 the Surgeon General published a report that stated there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or at work increase their risk of developing lung cancer by 20–30%.

Radon Exposure 

Radon is a naturally-occurring radioactive gas that is produced when uranium, thorium, and radium break down in soil, rock, and water. 

The amount of radon exposure you may have depends on the type of rock and soil under your home and/or business (where you spend most of your time). This varies by region. In Arizona, 1 in 15  homes tested had radon levels above what is considered acceptable (4.0 pCi/L). You can learn more about radon testing, including how to find a Radon Measurement Contractor from the Arizona Department of Health Services

Because radon is odorless, colorless, and tasteless, it is very hard to detect. It can seep into building foundations, living spaces, and working spaces, especially if you have cracks in the basement floor or foundation. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer among Americans and the leading cause of lung cancer among those who do not smoke.

Asbestos

Asbestos is a collective term used to describe six naturally occurring fibrous minerals: chrysotile, crocidolite, amosite, anthophyllite, tremolite, and actinolite. For decades, it was a material used in a number of different commercial and industrial capacities including roofing shingles, floor tiles, insulation, textile products, and automotive parts. Although the use of asbestos in products has stopped, your risk for developing lung cancer today can still be impacted by previous exposure.

Inhaling particles of any type of asbestos is linked to a higher risk of lung cancer. For most people, lung cancer doesn’t develop until at least 15 years of exposure to the airborne fibers. Those who smoke and have asbestos exposure are at an even higher risk of developing lung cancer. 

Personal or Family History of Lung Cancer

If your parents, siblings, or children have had lung cancer, your risk of lung cancer can increase. Furthermore, if you are a lung cancer survivor, you are at risk for developing lung cancer again, especially if you smoke. At this time, it has not been determined how much of the risk is due to shared genes and how much may be from exposure to environmental hazards like tobacco smoke and toxic chemicals. However, there are some instances when patients may benefit from genetic testing. Your Arizona Oncology lung cancer specialist will talk with you about whether you are a candidate for lung cancer genetic testing.

Other Lung Cancer Risk Factors

Additional substances, exposures, and lifestyle situations can also put you at risk for lung cancer. Some of these include:

  • Age
  • Air pollution
  • Previous radiation therapy to the chest
  • Diesel exhaust, arsenic, and other inhaled chemicals or minerals such as uranium, chromium, and silica 

The good news is that most risk factors for developing lung cancer are preventable. By minimizing these, you can significantly limit your chances of developing lung cancer.

Arizona Oncology - The US Oncology Network