7 risk factors for lung cancer

Risk factors for lung cancer include smoking, air pollution, exposure to toxins, and family history of lung cancer. Understanding these risk factors can help people reduce their risk of developing lung cancer.

Risk factors are things that increase a person’s chance of developing a disease. However, they do not predict who will or will not develop a disease.
This article examines the risk factors for lung cancer and ways to reduce their impact. It then discusses the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer.

What are the risk factors for lung cancer? The 7 main risk factors are:

– smoking
– second-hand smoke
– exposure to radon
– exposure to asbestos
– exposure to other carcinogenic substances, such as radioactive minerals, arsenic or diesel fumes
– the atmospheric pollution
– family history of lung cancer.

Some of these risk factors, such as a person’s family history, are fixed. This means that a person cannot change them. However, eliminating risk factors that are not fixed can help a person reduce their risk of developing lung cancer. Having risk factors does not necessarily mean that a person will get lung cancer. Similarly, people with no apparent risk factors may develop lung cancer.

Currently, it is not known whether the following factors affect a person’s risk of lung cancer:

– cannabis smoke
– electronic cigarettes and vaping
– talc and talc powder

1 Tobacco smoke

Tobacco smoke contributes to 80-90% of lung cancer cases. This makes it the main risk factor for lung cancer. This percentage may be higher for small cell lung cancer (SCLC), as this type of cancer is extremely rare in people who never smoke. People who smoke are 15 to 30 times more likely to develop lung cancer than those who don’t smoke. The longer and more frequently a person smokes, the higher the risk.

2 Second-hand smoke

People who don’t smoke but breathe in other people’s smoke are also at increased risk of lung cancer. Passive smoking is the third most common risk factor for lung cancer.

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3 Air pollution

Air pollution occurs when harmful particles and gases enter the air that people breathe. It is prevalent in urban and densely populated areas.
Experts estimate that air pollution may be responsible for 712,000 deaths worldwide each year, 62,000 of which are due to lung cancer. However, further research is needed to determine if these estimates are correct.

4 Exposure to radiation

Several types of radiation exposure can increase the risk of lung cancer. These include in particular

5 Radon exposure

Radon is one of the main causes of lung cancer in people who don’t smoke. Radon is a naturally occurring gas. Outside, he is unlikely to endanger people. Indoors, radon can be more concentrated. Prolonged exposure to radon indoors can lead to lung cancer.

6 Radiotherapy

Radiation therapy is used to treat cancer. However, radiation therapy to the chest may increase the risk of lung cancer. This can affect people having radiation therapy for breast cancer, for example. In many cases, this risk is unavoidable because the benefits of radiation therapy for people with other types of cancer usually outweigh the risks.

Radioactive minerals, such as uranium, are other sources of radiation that people can come into contact with.

7 Exposure to asbestos

Asbestos is a natural mineral that is carcinogenic, that is, causes cancer. Before doctors understood its dangers, people used asbestos as a material in construction, car manufacturing and industrial facilities.
Breathing asbestos increases the risk of lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma, a type of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs. The risk is particularly high if a person is exposed to asbestos and also smokes.

Other lung cancer-promoting toxins

Other carcinogens may pose a risk to people who regularly come into contact with them. This may concern people who work with hazardous substances, such as:
– arsenic
– cadmium
– beryllium
– silica
– vinyl chloride
– nickel compounds
– chromium compounds
– coal products
– mustard gas
– chloromethyl ethers

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Personal or family history of lung cancer

Close family members of people diagnosed with lung cancer have a 50% rate of developing lung cancer themselves. This finding is valid for all sexes and is not affected by other risk factors. People who have had lung cancer before are also more likely to have it again.

How to reduce the risk of lung cancer

It is not always possible to prevent lung cancer. Some risk factors, such as previous radiation exposure and family history, cannot be changed.
However, some of the most important risk factors can be avoided. People can reduce their risk of lung cancer by:

– By quitting smoking: People who quit smoking reduce their risk of developing cancer by half within 10 years of quitting. So it’s never too late to quit smoking. People can find free quit smoking resources at Smokefree.gov.

– Avoid passive smoking: If a member of the household smokes, ask them to leave so that others do not inhale the smoke. Keep cars and other enclosed spaces free of smoke.

– Test the house to detect carcinogens: test in particular the presence of radon in your house. You can find information on how to find a radon test on the web. One can also test their drinking water for the presence of arsenic or cadmium.

– Avoid carcinogens at work: Check whether substances can be carcinogens and follow health and safety guidelines when working with them.

– Improving indoor air quality: It is not always possible to avoid air pollution outdoors, but steps can be taken to improve indoor air quality. These include eliminating all sources of carcinogens, such as smoke and open fires, and improving ventilation. Seek professional advice on removing or containing the asbestos.

People in high-risk groups for lung cancer can also undergo annual screening. This helps detect signs of cancer at an early stage, which improves the chances of successful treatment.

The main types of lung cancer

Lung cancer develops when abnormal cells grow disorganized, forming malignant tumors and damaging surrounding tissue.
Tobacco toxins and other environmental risk factors contribute to this phenomenon by damaging the DNA of cells, which changes their behavior.
There are two main types of lung cancer:

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Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)

It is the most common type of lung cancer, accounting for 80-85% of all cases. Major subtypes include:

– adenocarcinoma, which starts in the outer areas of the lung, meaning doctors can find it more easily before it spreads.
– squamous cell carcinoma, which appears on the wall of the airways of the lungs
– large cell (undifferentiated) carcinoma, which can appear anywhere in the lungs and grows and spreads rapidly.
Adenosquamous carcinoma and sarcomatoid carcinoma are less common subtypes.


SCLC accounts for approximately 10-15% of lung cancers. Unfortunately, this type of cancer grows and spreads quickly. Of people with SCLC, 70% have cancer that has spread to other parts of the body by the time doctors make their diagnosis.

Lung Cancer Symptoms

Since there are few nerve endings in the lungs, the cancer may not cause pain. Symptoms may not appear until the disease progresses.

Potential symptoms are as follows

– a persistent cough that gets worse over time
– coughing up blood or rust-colored phlegm
– hoarseness
– chest pain that gets worse when coughing, breathing deeply, or laughing
– shortness of breath or wheezing
– frequent chest infections
– unexplained weight loss and fatigue.

It is recommended to consult a doctor if any of these symptoms occur.


Cohen, AJ (2003). Air pollution and lung cancer: What more do we need to know?

Improving indoor air quality. (nd).

What are the risk factors for lung cancer? (2020).

* Presse Santé strives to transmit medical knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE can the information given replace medical advice. [HighProtein-Foods.com]

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