Smoking and exposure to certain chemicals can greatly
increase your risk of getting lung cancer.
Lung cancer is caused by a
mutation in your DNA. When cells reproduce, they divide and replicate, forming
identical cells, so that your body is constantly renewing itself. Inhaling
harmful, cancer-causing substances (carcinogens) like cigarette smoke, asbestos,
and radon, damages the cells that line your lungs. At first your body may be
able to repair itself. With repeated exposure your cells become increasingly
damaged. Over time, the cells begin to act abnormally and grow uncontrollably.
This is how cancer can develop.
Several precancerous changes
have to occur before cancer actually manifests. The buildup of extra cells
causes tumors, which are either benign or malignant. Malignant cancerous lung
tumors can be life threatening. They can spread and even return after they have
been removed. According to the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 90 percent of all lung
cancers are due to smoking.
Current research suggests that if a member of
your immediate family (mother, father, sibling, aunt, uncle, or grandparent)
has had lung cancer, you may have a slightly higher risk of developing the
disease. This is true even if you don’t smoke. It’s unclear whether genetics
causes lung cancer or merely increase your susceptibility to it.
According to the American
Cancer Society (ACS), lung cancer
mostly occurs in older adults. Two out
of three people diagnosed with lung cancer are 65 or older. The average age at
the time of diagnosis is about 70. The older you are, the longer you have been
exposed to harmful chemicals. This naturally increases your risk for cancer.
Past Lung Disease
Past lung diseases, such as tuberculosis, and
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) — chronic bronchitis and emphysema
— can cause inflammation and scarring in the lungs. You may be at a greater
risk of developing lung cancer if you have a history of chronic diseases that
affect the lungs.
Radiation Therapy to the Chest
Radiation therapy used to treat other cancers
like non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and breast cancer may increase your risk of lung
cancer. This risk is higher if you smoke.
Even if you don’t smoke, being exposed to
secondhand smoke at home, work, or in restaurants and bars can increase your
risk of lung cancer. According to the CDC, each year about 3,000 people in the United States who have
never smoked die from lung cancer due to secondhand smoke.
Smoking tobacco is the number one risk factor
for lung cancer, accounting for nearly
90 percent of all cases. Tobacco and tobacco smoke
contain more than 7,000 chemicals (like nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide),
many of which are carcinogenic. Inhaling the chemicals in a cigarette
immediately triggers a change in lung tissue. Your body is initially able to
repair the damage, but its ability to do so decreases as exposure continues.
The more frequent and the longer you smoke, the greater your chance for lung
A balanced diet provides your body with the
vitamins and minerals it needs to maintain good health. If you don’t eat a
diverse mix of healthy foods, like fruits and vegetables, you may have an
increased risk for lung cancer. This is especially true if you are a
Radon is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless
gas that occurs naturally with the breakdown of uranium in rocks and soil.
These gases can seep into building foundations and into living and working
spaces. Radon is difficult to detect and you could be exposed without knowing
it. People who smoke have an increased risk from the affects of radon than
those who don’t smoke. According to the CDC, radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United
Asbestos is an industrial material used in
construction for insulation and as a fire retardant. When the material is
disturbed, small fibers become airborne and can be inhaled. You are at a
greater risk for developing lung cancer if you are exposed to asbestos on a regular
Other chemical exposures can raise your lung
cancer risks. Some examples are:
- vinyl chloride
- nickel compounds
- chromium compounds
- coal products
- mustard gas
- chloromethyl ethers
- diesel exhaust