Lung cancer can happen to anyone, but doctors cannot always explain why some people develop it and others do not. However, people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop lung cancer.
Some risk factors for lung cancer, such as smoking, can be prevented. Others cannot be changed, including family history of the disease. We help patients understand their risk of lung cancer and take steps to reduce it whenever possible.
Risk factors can include:
Tobacco smoke is by far the most significant risk factor for lung cancer. Harmful substances in smoke damage lung cells. As a result, smoking cigarettes, pipes, hookahs or cigars can cause lung cancer. E-cigarettes are also a growing concern. Exposure to secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer in nonsmokers. The more a person is exposed to smoke, the greater the risk of lung cancer.
Radon is a radioactive gas that cannot be seen, smelled or tasted. The gas, which can damage lung cells, naturally forms in soil and rocks. People who work in mines may be exposed to radon. In some parts of the country, radon may be found in houses, seeping through cracks in floors, walls or foundations.
You can test your home for radon to determine your risk. See the EPA recommendations for more information on testing.
Asbestos and other substances
People who have certain jobs, such as those who work in the construction and chemical industries, have an increased risk of lung cancer. That is because exposure to substances like asbestos, arsenic, chromium, nickel, soot and tar can cause lung cancer. The risk of disease increases with years of exposure. It is even higher for those who also smoke.
Air pollution increases the risk of lung cancer. Pollution can include diesel exhaust fumes, dust and particulate matter containing harmful substances. The risk from air pollution is higher for smokers.
Family history of lung cancer
People with a close family history — such as a father, mother, brother or sister who had lung cancer — may be at slightly increased risk of the disease. This is true even if they don't smoke.