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Lung Cancer

Most scientists agree that these things affect the risk of lung cancer. Some may apply to you, but others may not.

Age

The risk of lung cancer goes up with age. Rates of the disease are low in people under 40; they then increase significantly from age 40 until after 75.

Fruits and Vegetables

People who eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day have a lower risk of lung cancer. Scientists don’t know exactly which factors provide the protection because fruits and vegetables contain many different combinations of healthy elements, like antioxidants.

One serving is:

  • 1 cup of raw leafy greens, such as lettuce or spinach
  • 1/2 cup of other vegetables, raw or cooked
  • 1/2 cup of cooked beans or peas
  • 1 medium-sized piece of fruit or 1/2 cup of small or cut-up fruit
  • 3/4 cup of 100 percent fruit juice
  • 1/4 cup of dried fruit

People who eat fruits and vegetables also have a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

Tobacco Use: Cigarettes

People who smoke cigarettes have a much higher risk of lung cancer. In fact, 90 percent of people who get lung cancer are smokers. Cigarette smoke contains dangerous chemicals that damage the genetic structure (DNA) of the cells in the lungs and airways, and this damage can lead to cancer. The more a person smokes, the higher the risk of lung cancer.

Smoking is the No. 1 cause of lung cancer, and we know that people who quit smoking can cut their risk of developing this deadly disease. Soon after quitting, the risk begins to drop.

Taking beta-carotene supplements can further boost lung cancer risk in smokers. So most smokers should avoid the supplement. Talk to a doctor if you have any questions about your risk.

In addition to lung cancer, people who smoke also have a higher risk of many other types of cancer, including leukemia and cancers of the lip, mouth, larynx, esophagus, bladder, kidney, stomach and pancreas. Smokers also have a higher risk of diseases like heart disease, diabetes, bone loss (osteoporosis), emphysema and bronchitis.

Tobacco Use: Cigars and Pipes

People who smoke cigars or pipes have a higher risk of lung cancer than nonsmokers. Like cigarette smoke, cigar and pipe smoke contains dangerous chemicals that damage the genetic structure (DNA) of the body’s cells, and this damage can lead to cancer. The more a person smokes, the higher the risk of lung cancer.

People who smoke cigars (even if they don't inhale) also have a higher risk of cancers of the voice box, esophagus and oral area (lip, mouth, tongue and throat). And they have a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.

Secondhand Smoke

People who are exposed to secondhand smoke (the smoke from other people’s cigarettes, cigars and pipes) have a higher risk of lung cancer, even if they don’t smoke themselves. Secondhand smoke contains dangerous chemicals that damage the genetic structure (DNA) of your body's cells, and this damage can lead to cancer.

Air Pollution

People who live in a big city for 10 or more years have a slightly higher risk of lung cancer. This is most likely due to pollutants in the air, like car exhaust and factory emissions, that cause damage to the cells in the lungs and airways.

Workplace Chemicals

People who are exposed to certain workplace chemicals have a higher risk of lung cancer. This is because some chemicals can damage the genetic structure (DNA) in the body's cells, and this damage can lead to cancer.

Workplace chemicals linked to lung cancer include asbestos, radon and chromium. Processes like arsenic smelting are also linked to lung cancer.

For smokers, the combination of smoking and exposure to chemicals is extremely dangerous. Smokers who are also exposed to chemicals like asbestos are at a very high risk of lung cancer.

In addition, taking beta-carotene supplements can further boost lung cancer risk in people exposed to workplace chemicals. So most people exposed to such chemicals should avoid the supplement. Talk to a doctor if you have any questions about your risk.

Family History

People who have a close relative (mother, father, brother or sister) with lung cancer have a higher risk of the disease. This is because some cases of lung cancer are linked to mutations in the genetic structure (DNA) of the body's cells that can be passed from generation to generation.

To assess your risk for lung cancer and get tips for reducing that risk, visit the Your Disease Risk website.