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Lung Cancer

Risk Factors For Lung Cancer

The following are risk factors for lung cancer:

Cigarette, cigar, and pipe smoking

Tobacco smoking is the most important risk factor for lung cancerCigarettecigar, and pipe smoking all increase the risk of lung cancer. Tobacco smoking causes about 9 out of 10 cases of lung cancer in men and about 8 out of 10 cases of lung cancer in women.

Studies have shown that smoking low tar or low nicotine cigarettes does not lower the risk of lung cancer.

Studies also show that the risk of lung cancer from smoking cigarettes increases with the number of cigarettes smoked per day and the number of years smoked. People who smoke have about 20 times the risk of lung cancer compared to those who do not smoke.

Secondhand smoke

Being exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke is also a risk factor for lung cancer. Secondhand smoke is the smoke that comes from a burning cigarette or other tobacco product, or that is exhaled by smokers. People who inhale secondhand smoke are exposed to the same cancer -causing agents as smokers, although in smaller amounts. Inhaling secondhand smoke is called involuntary or passive smoking.

Family history

Having a family history of lung cancer is a risk factor for lung cancer. People with a relative who has had lung cancer may be twice as likely to have lung cancer as people who do not have a relative who has had lung cancer. Because cigarette smoking tends to run in families and family members are exposed to secondhand smoke, it is hard to know whether the increased risk of lung cancer is from the family history of lung cancer or from being exposed to cigarette smoke.

HIV infection

Being infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the cause of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), is linked with a higher risk of lung cancer. People infected with HIV may have more than twice the risk of lung cancer than those who are not infected. Since smoking rates are higher in those infected with HIV than in those not infected, it is not clear whether the increased risk of lung cancer is from HIV infection or from being exposed to cigarette smoke.

Environmental risk factors

  • Radon exposure: Radon is a radioactive gas that comes from the breakdown of uranium in rocks and soil. It seeps up through the ground, and leaks into the air or water supply. Radon can enter homes through cracks in floors, walls, or the foundation, and levels of radon can build up in the home.

    Studies show that high levels of radon gas inside homes and other buildings increase the number of new cases of lung cancer and the number of deaths caused by lung cancer. The risk of lung cancer is higher in smokers exposed to radon than in nonsmokers exposed to radon. In people who have never smoked, about 30% of deaths caused by lung cancer have been linked to being exposed to radon.

  • Workplace exposure: Studies show that being exposed to the following substances increases the risk of lung cancer:

    These substances can cause lung cancer in people who are exposed to them in the workplace and have never smoked. As the level of exposure to these substances increases, the risk of lung cancer also increases. The risk of lung cancer is even higher in people who are exposed and also smoke.

  • Air pollution: Studies show that living in areas with higher levels of air pollution increases the risk of lung cancer.

Beta carotene supplements in heavy smokers

Taking beta carotene supplements (pills) increases the risk of lung cancer, especially in smokers who smoke one or more packs a day. The risk is higher in smokers who have at least one alcoholic drink every day.

 

Adapted from the National Cancer Institute's Physician Data Query (PDQ(r)) Cancer Information Summaries (http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq). Date Last Modified: December 3, 2013

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Last Reviewed: Mar 23, 2015