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Lung Cancer Causes and Risks

Research has found several risk factors that may increase your chances of getting lung cancer.

Smoking

The largest risk factor for lung cancer is cigarette smoking. Cigarette smoking is linked to roughly 90 percent of lung cancer. Other tobacco products such as cigars or pipes also increase the risk for lung cancer. Current research shows that at least 70 of the chemicals in tobacco smoke are known to cause cancer in people or animals.

Cigarette smokers are 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from lung cancer than people who do not smoke. The risk of developing lung cancer increases the more years a person smokes and the more cigarettes smoked each day.

Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoke from cigarettes, pipes, or cigars increases one's chance of developing lung cancer. Recent studies have shown that two out of five adults who don’t smoke and half of all children are exposed to secondhand smoke. Each year, roughly 7,300 people who have never smoked will die from lung cancer due to secondhand smoke.

Radon

The second leading cause of lung cancer is radon. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon causes nearly 21,000 cases of lung cancer each year. Nearly one out of every 15 homes in the U.S. is thought to have high radon levels. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas and comes from the natural decay of uranium. It is usually found in rocks and soil, but in some cases, well water may also be a source.

Other Substances

Studies have shown exposure to substances such as asbestos, arsenic, diesel exhaust, and some forms of silica and chromium increase the risks of lung cancer.

Personal or Family History of Lung Cancer

Lung cancer survivors are at an increased risk of developing another case of lung cancer. If a member of your immediate family has battled lung cancer, you are at an increased likelihood of developing lung cancer.

Radiation Therapy to the Chest

Cancer survivors who have gone through radiation therapy in the chest area are at greater risk of developing lung cancer later in life.