How does lung cancer develop?
A DNA mutation causes lung cancer. Cells divide and replicate to form
identical cells. In this way, your body is constantly renewing itself. Inhaling
harmful chemicals 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, the damage to your cells increases. Over time, cells begin
to grow uncontrollably. This is how cancer can develop.
Several changes have to occur for cancer to develop. The buildup of extra
cells causes tumors. The can be either benign, or noncancerous, or malignant,
which means cancerous. Malignant lung tumors can be life-threatening. They can
spread and even return after the doctor has removed them.
Risk factors related to personal history
Current research suggests that if a member of your immediate family, such as
your parent or sibling, has or had lung cancer, you may have a slightly higher
risk of developing the disease. This is also the case if you have multiple
family members who’ve had lung cancer.
This is true even if you don’t smoke. At this point, it’s unclear whether
genetics cause lung cancer or merely increase your chances of developing it.
According to the Lung
Cancer Alliance (LCA), 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’ve been exposed to
harmful chemicals. This increases your risk of cancer.
Past lung disease
If you have a history of chronic illnesses that affect the lungs, you may be
at a greater risk of developing lung cancer. Lung diseases can cause
inflammation and scarring in the lungs. These include tuberculosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary
disease, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
to the chest
Radiation therapy for treating other cancers may increase your risk of lung
cancer. This risk is higher if you smoke.
Lifestyle risk factors
You’re at risk for lung cancer if you don’t smoke but you’re exposed to
cigarette smoke regularly in your daily environment, such as:
- at home
- at work
- in restaurants
- in bars
According to the LCA,
secondhand smoke increases your risk of lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent.
Although nonsmokers can get lung cancer, smoking tobacco, such as by using
cigarettes, cigars, and pipes, is the top risk factor for lung cancer. 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. 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. Initially,
your body is able to repair the damage. Its ability to do so decreases as
exposure continues. The more frequently you smoke and the longer you smoke, the
greater your chances of developing lung cancer.
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’re a smoker.
the Mayo Clinic, exposure to certain toxins in
the environment can increase your risk of developing lung cancer. These toxins include
radon, asbestos, and other chemicals.
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. Because radon is
difficult to detect, you could have exposure to it without knowing it. People
who smoke have an increased risk from the effects of radon than those who don’t
smoke. According to the LCA,
radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States.
Asbestos is an industrial material that people use in construction for
insulation and as a fire retardant. When the material is disturbed, small
fibers become airborne and can be inhaled. You’re at an increased risk of
developing lung cancer if you’re exposed to asbestos on a regular basis.
Other chemical exposures can raise your lung cancer risks. Some examples of
these chemicals are:
- vinyl chloride
- nickel compounds
- chromium compounds
- coal products
- mustard gas
- chloromethyl ethers
- diesel exhaust
Most cases of lung cancer are preventable. You can significantly limit your
chances of developing lung cancer by avoiding exposure to risk factors. Smoking
is the top risk factor for lung cancer.
Quitting is the most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of lung
cancer. 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 lung cancer.
Avoiding asbestos and
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.
Maintaining a healthy diet
Nutrition is important for maintaining good health. A diet high in the
following provides your body with the nutrition it needs to function properly
and heal damaged cells:
You can also do the following to maintain a healthy diet:
- Eat five or more servings of fruits and
vegetables per day.
- Include other plant-based foods like beans and
- Stay away from high-fat foods.
- Avoid drinking alcohol or limit the amount you