Research has found several risk factors that may increase your chances of getting lung cancer. Some factors can be controlled, such as smoking. And other factors can’t be controlled, such as your family history.
Cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer. In our country, cigarette smoking is linked to about 80% to 90% of lung cancer deaths. Using other tobacco products such as cigars or pipes also increases the risk for lung cancer. Tobacco smoke is a toxic mix of more than 7,000 chemicals. Many of these chemicals are poisons. At least 70 chemicals are known to cause cancer in people or animals.
People who smoke cigarettes are 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from lung cancer than people who do not smoke. Even smoking a few cigarettes a day or smoking occasionally increases the risk of lung cancer. The more years a person smokes and the more cigarettes smoked each day, the more risk goes up.
People who quit smoking have a lower risk of lung cancer than if they had continued to smoke, but their risk is higher than the risk for people who never smoked. Quitting smoking at any age can lower the risk of lung cancer.
Cigarette smoking can cause cancer almost anywhere in the body. Cigarette smoking causes cancer of the mouth and throat, esophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, liver, pancreas, larynx, trachea, bronchus, kidney and renal pelvis, urinary bladder, and cervix, and causes acute myeloid leukemia.
Inhalation of tobacco smoke
Smoke from other people’s cigarettes, pipes, or cigars (secondhand smoke) also causes lung cancer. When a person breathes in secondhand smoke, it is like that person is smoking.
Radon is a naturally occurring gas that comes from rocks and dirt and can get trapped in houses and buildings. Radon gas cannot be seen, tasted, or smelled.
Examples of substances found at some workplaces that increase risk include: asbestos, arsenic, diesel exhaust, and some forms of silica and chromium. For many of these substances, the risk of getting lung cancer is even higher for those who smoke.
Arsenic in drinking water (primarily from private wells) can increase the risk of lung cancer.
Personal or family history of lung cancer
If you are a lung cancer survivor, there is a risk that you may develop another lung cancer, especially if you smoke. Your risk of lung cancer may be higher if your parents, brothers or sisters, or children have had lung cancer. This could be true because they also smoke, or they live or work in the same place where they are exposed to radon gas and other substances that can cause lung cancer.
Radiation therapy to the chest
If you’ve undergone radiation therapy to the chest for another type of cancer, you may have an increased risk of developing lung cancer.