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Risk Factors

Lung Cancer Risk Factors

Smoking Tobacco

To prevent lung cancer, do not smoke cigarettes or use tobacco products. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths and disease in the United States. Doylestown Health's Cancer Institute strongly encourages anyone who smokes cigarettes, cigars or pipes, or uses other forms of tobacco, to quit. Smoking not only causes lung cancer, but also it may cause cancers of the mouth, tongue, nose, throat, voice box, esophagus or other areas of the body. It also contributes to other conditions such as heart disease, stroke, emphysema and severe lung disease.

Cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer, accounting for 87 percent of all lung cancers in the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smokers are 15 to 30 times more likely to develop lung cancer than people who do not smoke. Even people who smoke occasionally or have a few cigarettes a day are at higher risk for lung cancer. The risk increases as someone continues to smoke for years or smokes more cigarettes each day. An estimated 3,000 people who never smoked but were exposed to secondhand smoke at home or in the workplace die from lung cancer each year.

Additional Risk Factors for Lung Cancer

In addition to smoking there are several environmental, work-related, lifestyle and hereditary risk factors for lung cancer. Doylestown Health's Cancer Institute's specialists have extensive experience in treating lung cancer caused by all types of risk factors, including:

  • Radon: Exposure to radon is the second leading risk factor for lung cancer, associated with 15,000 to 20,000 cases each year in the United States. Radon is an invisible, odorless, tasteless radioactive gas released from the normal decay of the elements in rocks and soil that can damage cells that line the lungs and lead to lung cancer. People are exposed to radon when it seeps into homes, schools, workplaces or other buildings through cracks in floors, walls or foundations. In Pennsylvania, elevated levels of radon affect almost half of all Pennsylvania homes. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) encourages all homeowners to perform an easy and inexpensive test of their homes for radon and to take the necessary steps if elevated levels are detected. DEP also recommends testing buildings and schools for radon. Pennsylvanians can call the Radon Hotline for more information (800.237.2366). Exposure to radon and cigarette smoke together creates a greater risk of lung cancer than exposure to either factor alone.
  • Asbestos: These tiny, hair-like fibers found in natural minerals were used for fireproofing and insulating in construction materials and manufacturing processes. When inhaled, the fibers can irritate the lungs and eventually cause lung disease. People who smoke and are exposed to asbestos have a higher risk for lung cancer.
  • Industrial and chemical substances: Exposure to substances such as arsenic, uranium, coal products, mustard gas, ethers, gasoline and diesel exhaust may increase risk for lung cancer.
  • Family history or genetics: These factors play a role in the development of lung cancer through inherited or environmentally-acquired gene mutations.
  • Radiation exposure: X-rays of the chest area can increase risk of lung cancer, especially in people who smoke.
  • Air pollution: Contains trace amounts of diesel exhaust, coal products and other industrial substances.
  • Tuberculosis: Causes scarring of lung tissue which can be a risk factor for developing lung cancer.
  • Military service: Veterans and active-duty personnel exposed to industrial substances, asbestos, air pollution or tactical chemicals, such as Agent Orange, may be at higher risk for lung cancer.
  • No known risk: Approximately 15 percent of patients with lung cancer do not have any known risk factors for the disease.

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