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Risk Factors Increasing Exposure to Lung Cancer

Updated: Jan 26, 2022

A risk factor is anything that increases the chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Some risk factors for lung cancer can be changed or avoided, and others can't be. Just because you have one or more risk factors does not necessarily mean you will get lung cancer. And some people who get the disease may have few or no known risk factors. Several risk factors can make you more prone to developing lung cancer.

Risk Factors You Can Change Or Avoid



Smoking includes cigarettes, cigars, and pipe smoking. According to the CDC, cigarettes are the number one risk factor for getting lung cancer and are linked to roughly 80% to 90% of lung cancer deaths in the United States.

Did you know: 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.

You can develop cancer anywhere in the body from smoking. Smoking cigarettes can lead to developing cancer in the mouth and throat, esophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, liver, pancreas, voicebox, trachea, bronchus, kidney, renal pelvis, urinary bladder, and cervix, and causes acute myeloid leukemia.

Smoking cigars or pipes also increase your risk of developing lung cancer because it contains tobacco. Tobacco smoke causes changes in cells that can lead to cancer because it contains more than 7,000 chemicals, many of which are poisons.

You may think that smoking occasionally doesn't increase your risk of lung cancer, but any amount of smoking and the longer you smoke, the more the risk goes up. Quitting smoking can lower your risk of lung cancer but is not a sure cure.

Second-Hand Smoking

Secondhand smoking is inhaling the smoke (from cigarettes, pipes, or cigars) from other people who are smoking nearby you. Every time you breathe in the smoke, it likes you are taking a hit yourself. Secondhand exposure can increase your risk of lung cancer by 20% to 30%. The Environmental Protection Agency lists it as the third leading cause of lung cancer.

Did you know: Secondhand smoke causes approximately 7,330 deaths from lung cancer and 33,950 deaths from heart disease each year.

Exposure To Radon

Radon is an invisible, odorless, tasteless, naturally occurring radioactive gas. It results from the breakdown of uranium in the soil. Exposure to radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and the number one cause of lung cancer in non-smokers according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Did you know: Radon is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year. About 2,900 of these deaths occur among people who have never smoked.

Exposure To Asbestos

Asbestos is a mineral fiber that is common among manufacturing products like insulation and tiles. If you work in mines, mills, shipyards, construction, and mechanical job-related fields, you are more likely to be exposed to large amounts of asbestos. Exposure to asbestos increases your risk of developing a rare type of lung cancer called mesothelioma.

Exposure to other work-related Carcinogens

Many occupations have hazardous carcinogens that can increase your risk of lung cancer. It is important to follow all safety guidelines recommended by your employer if you are exposed to carcinogens. Some of these include:

  • Radioactive ores (such as uranium)

  • Inhaled arsenic

  • Inhaled beryllium

  • Inhaled cadmium

  • Inhaled silica

  • Inhaled vinyl chloride

  • Inhaled nickel compounds

  • Inhaled chromium compounds

  • Inhaled coal products

  • Inhaled mustard gas

  • Inhaled chloromethyl methyl ethers (or diesel exhaust)

Risk Factors You Can't Change Or Avoid

Pollution and Air Quality

An estimated 5% of lung cancer deaths worldwide are due to outdoor air pollution. Fine particles in the air can be inhaled into the lungs causing problems later on. Research is ongoing to learn more about the effects and process. If you live in the city, or by high traffic roads, you are at a slightly higher risk of getting lung cancer.

Health-Related Issues and Exposure To Radiation

If you have never smoked but are diagnosed with emphysema, chronic bronchitis, or asthma, you may be at a higher risk of getting lung cancer by 50% to 100%. Other underlying health conditions such as breast cancer or Hodgkin's disease that undergo radiation treatment can significantly increase your risk. Keep in mind that risk increases the more you are exposed to radiation and the dose received. Age is another factor that can affect your risk for lung cancer. The younger you are, the higher the risk.

Family History

Being diagnosed with lung cancer increases with age. 60% of lung cancer patients are over 65 years old. 70 is the average age of diagnosis and about 10% of people 50 years old or younger are diagnosed with lung cancer.

Other Risk Factors

Research is still ongoing and not all studies done have found a link between cancer and the following risk factors.


Marijuana (sometimes called pot or weed) smoke irritates the throat and lungs causing a heavy cough while smoking. Weed can contain harmful chemicals and tar similar to tobacco smoke. This creates concern for the risk of lung cancer and other diseases.

Studies have found that smoking weed might increase susceptibility to lung infections (pneumonia), respiratory system immune response, and respiratory infections.

Smoking e-cigarettes


It's believed that e-cigarettes are a healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes, cigars, and pipe smoking, but it is just as addictive because it contains nicotine. The ingredients and chemicals that manufacturers use are not well known. The study of e-cigarettes is still relatively new, and not much information is available on how dangerous they may be. There is a concern for younger adults smoking e-cigarettes and it being a gateway drug to cigarettes.

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