A risk factor is anything that affects a person’s chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. Some risk factors, like smoking, can be changed. Others, like a person’s age or family history, can’t be changed.
But having a risk factor, or even several, does not mean that you will get the disease. And some people who get the disease may have few or no known risk factors. Several risk factors can make you more likely to develop lung cancer.
Research has found several risk factors that may increase your chances of getting lung cancer. :
|Image 1. Smoking|
Cigar smoking and pipe smoking are almost as likely to cause lung cancer as cigarette smoking. Smoking low-tar or “light” cigarettes increases lung cancer risk as much as regular cigarettes. Smoking menthol cigarettes might increase the risk even more since the menthol allows smokers to inhale more deeply.
The number one risk factor for lung cancer is cigarette smoking. In the United States, cigarette smoking is linked to about 80% to 90% of lung cancers. 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 are poisons. At least 70 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.
Secondhand smoke: If you don’t smoke, breathing in the smoke of others (called secondhand smoke or environmental tobacco smoke) can increase your risk of developing lung cancer. Secondhand smoke is thought to cause more than 7,000 deaths from lung cancer each year.
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|Image 2. Radon|
Radon is a naturally occurring gas that comes from rocks and dirt and can get trapped in houses and buildings. It cannot be seen, tasted, or smelled. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon causes about 20,000 cases of lung cancer each year, making it the second leading cause of lung cancer. Nearly one out of every 15 homes in the U.S. is thought to have high radon levels. The EPA recommends testing homes for radon and using proven ways to lower high radon levels.
Outdoors, there is so little radon that it is not likely to be dangerous. But indoors, radon can be more concentrated. Breathing it in exposes your lungs to small amounts of radiation. This may increase a person’s risk of lung cancer.
Homes and other buildings in nearly any part of the United States can have high indoor radon levels (especially in basements).
EXPOSURE TO ASBESTOS
People who work with asbestos (such as in mines, mills, textile plants, places where insulation is used, and shipyards) are several times more likely to die of lung cancer. Lung cancer risk is much greater in workers exposed to asbestos who also smoke. It’s not clear how much low-level or short-term exposure to asbestos might raise lung cancer risk.
People exposed to large amounts of asbestos also have a greater risk of developing mesothelioma, a type of cancer that starts in the pleura (the lining surrounding the lungs). For more on this type of cancer, see called Malignant Mesothelioma.
In recent years, government regulations have greatly reduced the use of asbestos in commercial and industrial products. It’s still present in many homes and other older buildings, but it’s not usually considered harmful as long as it’s not released into the air by deterioration, demolition, or renovation.
In cities, air pollution (especially near heavily trafficked roads) appears to raise the risk of lung cancer slightly. This risk is far less than the risk caused by smoking, but some researchers estimate that worldwide about 5% of all deaths from lung cancer may be due to outdoor air pollution.
ARSENIC IN DRINKING WATER
Studies of people in parts of Southeast Asia and South America with high levels of arsenic in their drinking water have found a higher risk of lung cancer. In most of these studies, the levels of arsenic in the water were many times higher than those typically seen in the United States, even in areas where arsenic levels are above normal. For most Americans who are on public water systems, drinking water is not a major source of arsenic.
PREVIOUS RADIATION THERAPY TO THE LUNGS
People who have had radiation therapy to the chest for other cancers are at higher risk for lung cancer, particularly if they smoke. Examples include people treated for Hodgkin disease or women who get radiation after a mastectomy for breast cancer. Women who get radiation therapy to the breast after a lumpectomy do not appear to have a higher than expected risk of lung cancer.
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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.
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 and other substances that can cause lung cancer.
RADIATION THERAPY TO THE CHEST
Cancer survivors who had radiation therapy to the chest are at higher risk of lung cancer.
Scientists are studying many different foods and dietary supplements to see whether they change the risk of getting lung cancer. There is much we still need to know. We do know that smokers who take beta-carotene supplements have increased risk of lung cancer.
Increasing age is a risk factor for many cancers, including lung cancer. The average age in the United States for a lung cancer diagnosis is around 70 years of age. About 10% of lung cancer cases occur in people younger than 50 years old.
ENVIRONMENTAL EXPOSURE, INDUSTRIAL CHEMICALS
Environmental chemicals including arsenic, beryllium ,air pollution from vehicle and diesel exhaust, and industrial and residential emissions, as well as those from power plants.
Industrial chemicals - There is evidence that exposure to chemicals in certain occupations or industries increases the risk for lung cancer. These include: aluminum and coke production; hairdresser and barbers; underground hematite mining with radon exposure; iron and steel founding; painters; production of art glass, glass containers, and pressed ware; rubber industry. Find out about occupational carcinogens by reading Listing Occupational Carcinogens, published in the November 2004 edition of Environmental Health Perspectives.
A study investigating if the use of beta-carotene supplements would decrease lung cancer risk in those at high risk (current smokers and asbestos-exposed workers) instead found the opposite. The use of beta carotene supplements actually increased the number of lung cancer diagnoses (and death from lung cancer) for those already at high risk for the disease. It is important to note that foods containing beta-carotene are thought to decrease risk for developing lung cancer, as is increasing fruit consumption.
Even among never smokers, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and asthma may increase lung cancer risk by 50-100%. Also, as more people survive cancer, we are learning more about long term effects of radiation treatment to the chest. In breast cancer survivors, lung cancer risk was greater for those who received post-mastectomy radiation, for the lung on the same side as the initial breast cancer. Risk increases with the radiation dose received. There does not appear to be the same risk for newer, post-lumpectomy breast radiation treatment. Smoking seems to increase the radiation-related lung cancer risk. In Hodgkin’s Disease survivors, increased risk for lung cancer is significantly linked to the doses of radiation used in treatment. As in breast cancer, risk increases with the radiation dose received.
WAYS TO REDUCE THE RISK OF LUNG CANCER
You can help lower your risk of lung cancer in the following ways :
- Don’t smoke. Cigarette smoking causes about 90% of lung cancer deaths in the United States. The most important thing you can do to prevent lung cancer is to not start smoking, or to quit if you smoke.
- Avoid secondhand smoke. Smoke from other people’s cigarettes, cigars, or pipes is called secondhand smoke. Make your home and car smoke-free.
- Get your home tested for radon. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends that all homes be tested for radon.
- Be careful at work. Health and safety guidelines in the workplace can help workers avoid carcinogens—things that can cause cancer.
WHAT ABOUT PIPES, CIGARS, MARIJUANA AND E-CIGARETTES?
Pipe smoking is linked to lung cancer but the risk appears to be lower in people who do not also smoke cigarettes. According to the National Cancer Institute, the risk of lung cancer for cigar smokers may be similar to that of cigarette smokers when adjusted for differences in level of inhalation and quantity smoked per day. Not all studies have found a link between marijuana use and lung cancer however The Association Between Marijuana Smoking and Lung Cancer: A systemic review concluded there is a “biological plausibility for the enhanced risk of lung cancer associated with marijuana."
E-cigarettes: Some believe e-cigarettes are a healthier alternative and may even help people to stop smoking traditional cigarettes. Here is what we know:
- There is not enough evidence to support that e-cigarettes are an effective smoking cessation tool.
- Over 2000 unregulated companies manufacture e-cigarettes and we don't know exactly what ingredients they contain and how dangerous they may be.
- Some e-cigarettes use nicotine solutions that are potentially toxic.
- The effect of e-cigarettes on youth smoking is also unknown, one concern is that use may lead to the smoking of traditional cigarettes. We do know that through the use of flavored e-cigarettes and marketing techniques, children and young adults are being targeted by some e-cigarette manufacturers.
- Also unknown is the effect of inhaling vapors, to the user or others around them.
- Finally, there are concerns that e-cigarettes set back smoking cessation efforts because they glamorize and normalize smoking behaviors.