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Lung Cancer Center

Lung Cancer Causes and Risk Factors

What causes lung cancer?
Doctors cannot always explain why one person develops lung cancer and another does not. Although smoking causes the majority of lung cancers — both in smokers and in people exposed to second hand smoke, lung cancer also occurs in people who never smoked. In these cases, there may be no clear cause of lung cancer.

Smoking tobacco - Doctors believe smoking causes lung cancer by damaging the cells that line the lungs. When you inhale cigarette smoke, which is full of cancer-causing substances (carcinogens), changes in the lung tissue begin almost immediately. At first your body may be able to repair this damage. But with each cigarette, normal cells that line the lungs are damaged more. Over time, the damage causes cells to act abnormally and eventually cancer may develop.

Risk factors
A risk factor is a behavior, trait or experience that may increase the chance of developing a disease. So a person with certain risk factors may be more likely than others to develop lung cancer. For example, diagnosed with certain chronic lung diseases (such as tuberculosis or bronchitis) may increase the risk of lung cancer. Doctors have identified the following factors that may increase the risk for some people to develop lung cancer:

Age - Lung cancer occurs most often between the ages of 55 and 65. Most people are older than 65 years when diagnosed with lung cancer.

Air pollution - Air pollution may slightly increase the risk for developing lung cancer. The risk from air pollution is higher for smokers.

Asbestos and other substances - Exposure to asbestos, arsenic, chromium, nickel, soot, tar, and other substances can cause lung cancer. People with jobs that expose them to environmental hazards in the construction and chemical industries have an increased risk for lung cancer. The risk is highest for those with years of exposure and even higher for smokers.

Excessive alcohol use - Drinking more than one drink a day for women or two drinks a day for men may increase risk of lung cancer.

Exposure to second hand smoke - Even if you don't smoke, your risk of lung cancer increases if you're exposed to second hand smoke.

Family history - People with a father, mother, brother, or sister who had lung cancer may be at slightly increased risk of the disease.

Gender - Current or former women smokers have a greater risk of lung cancer than do men who have smoked an equal amount.

Other illnesses – It's not yet clear whether having certain lung diseases is a risk factor for lung cancer.

Personal history - People who have had lung cancer in the past are at increased risk of developing a second lung tumor.

Radon - Radon is a radioactive gas that you cannot see, smell, or taste that forms in soil and rocks and damages lung cells. People exposed to radon are at increased risk of lung cancer, which is even higher for smokers.

Tobacco smoke - Tobacco smoke from cigarettes, pipes or cigars causes most cases of lung cancer. It's by far the most important risk factor for lung cancer. Harmful substances in smoke damage lung cells. The more a person is exposed to smoke, the greater the risk of lung cancer.

Do you know how to identify the early symptoms of lung cancer? While some of the symptoms of lung cancer are well known, such as coughing up blood, there are additional symptoms to look for. Early identification and diagnosis of lung cancer symptoms is essential. Click here for more info on symptoms of lung cancer.

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