Lung Cancer Risk Factors and Prevention
Smoking and being exposed to cancer-causing
(carcinogenic) chemicals greatly increase your risk of 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
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, they begin to act
abnormally and grow uncontrollably. This is how cancer can develop.
Several precancerous changes
have to occur before cancer actually manifests. The build-up 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), about 90 percent of all lung cancer
deaths in the United States are due to smoking.
Personal History and Lifestyle Choices
Current research suggests that if a member of
your immediate family (mother, father, sibling, aunt, uncle, or grandparent)
has or had lung cancer you may have a slightly higher risk of developing the
disease. This is true even if you don’t smoke. At this point, it’s unclear
whether genetics cause lung cancer or merely increase your susceptibility to
According to the Lung
Cancer Alliance, the average age in
the United States for a lung cancer diagnosis is around 70. Only about 10
percent of lung cancers occur in people younger than 50. 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 can cause inflammation and
scarring in the lungs. These include tuberculosis and chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
If you have a history of chronic illnesses
that affect the lungs, you may be at a greater risk of developing lung cancer.
Radiation Therapy to the Chest
Radiation therapy used to treat other cancers may
increase your risk of lung cancer. This risk is higher if you smoke.
You are at risk if you don’t smoke but are
exposed to cigarette smoke regularly in your daily environment at home or work,
or in restaurants and bars. According to the Lung
Cancer Alliance, secondhand smoke
increases your risk for lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent.
Smoking tobacco (cigarettes, cigars, and
pipes) is the number one risk factor for lung cancer. According to the Lung
Cancer Alliance, smoking is responsible
for nearly 90 percent of all lung cancer cases. Tobacco and tobacco smoke
contain 7,000 chemicals, 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. Its ability to do so decreases as exposure
continues. The more frequently and the longer you smoke, the greater your
chance becomes for developing lung cancer.
A balanced diet provides your body with the
vitamins and minerals it needs to maintain good health. You may have an
increased risk for lung cancer if you don’t eat a diverse mix of healthy foods
like fruits and vegetables. This is especially true if you are a smoker.
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 the living and working
spaces. Because radon is difficult to detect, 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 Lung
Cancer Alliance, radon is the
second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States.
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
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
The majority of lung cancer is preventable. You
can significantly limit your chances for developing lung cancer by avoiding
your exposure to risk factors. Smoking is the number one risk factor for lung
Because smoking is responsible for 90 percent
of lung cancers, quitting is the most important thing you can do. Your lungs
will begin to heal themselves almost immediately. The amount of time you smoked
and the frequency will affect the ability of the lungs to repair. But even
after many years of smoking, quitting can significantly reduce your risk of
Asbestos and Radon
If you work around asbestos or other harmful
materials, be careful to limit your exposure as much as possible. Radon testing
is available for home and commercial spaces. If you live or work in an old
building and suspect the presence of either radon or asbestos, testing for
unsafe levels can provide you with peace of mind.
Nutrition is important for maintaining good health.
A diet high in fruits, vegetables, vitamins, and minerals provides your body
with the nutrition it needs to function properly and heal damaged cells. Eat
five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Include other plant-based
foods like beans and grains. Stay away from high-fat foods and avoid or limit
your alcohol consumption.