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Wellness & Prevention

Wellness & Prevention

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States for men and women, taking more lives than breast, prostate and colorectal cancers combined. Understanding your risk for lung cancer can help you make decisions about your health and lifestyle that could impact your risk of developing lung cancer.

No cancer can be entirely prevented; however, you can take steps to reduce your risk of developing the disease or finding it early.

Risk Factors

Risk factors don’t tell us everything. Having a risk factor, or even several risk factors, does not mean that you will get the disease. And many people who get the disease may not have had any known risk factors. There are several risk factors that can make you more likely to develop lung cancer.

Tobacco smoke

Smoking is by far the leading risk factor for lung cancer. At least 80 percent of lung cancer deaths are thought to result from smoking. The risk for lung cancer among smokers is many times higher than among non-smokers. The longer you smoke and the more packs a day you smoke, the greater the risk.

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. There is concern that menthol cigarettes may increase the risk even more since the menthol allows smokers to inhale more deeply.

Secondhand smoke can increase your risk of developing lung cancer. A non-smoker who lives with a smoker has about a 20 to 30 percent greater risk of developing lung cancer.


Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that results from the breakdown of uranium in the soil and rocks. It cannot be seen, tasted or smelled. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the country and is the leading cause among non-smokers. Outdoors, there is so little radon that it is not likely to be dangerous, but indoors it can be more concentrated. When it is breathed in, it enters the lungs, exposing them to small amounts of radiation. Radon also poses a higher risk to smokers than non-smokers. If you are concerned about radon exposure, you can use a radon detection kit to test the levels in your home.


Studies have found that people who work with asbestos are several times more likely to die of lung cancer. In workers exposed to asbestos who also smoke, the lung cancer risk is even greater.

Family history

If you have lung cancer, you have a higher risk of developing another lung cancer. Brothers, sisters, and children of those who have had lung cancer may have a slightly higher risk of lung cancer themselves, especially if the relative was diagnosed at a younger age. It is not clear how much of this risk might be due to genetics and how much might be from shared household exposures such as tobacco smoke or radon. Researchers have found that genetics seems to play a role in some families with a strong history of lung cancer.