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Risk Factors for Lung Cancer

Tobacco Use

  • Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer; however, it is estimated that approximately 20% never smoked.  The risk from smoking increases with the number of years and packs per day the person smoked. Tobacco smoke causes changes in cells that can lead to cancer.

    • Smoking cigarettes, cigars or pipes can lead to lung cancer.  The impact of vaping is not yet known. 

    • Secondhand smoke can also lead to lung cancer in nonsmokers.  As with smoking, the amount and length of time a person is exposed increases their risk.


  • Radon is an invisible, odorless, tasteless radioactive gas that occurs naturally in soil and rocks. Exposure to radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States.  Nearly one out of every 15 homes in the United States is thought to have high radon levels. The EPA recommends testing homes for radon and using proven ways to lower high radon levels.


  • There is not enough evidence to support that e-cigarettes are an effective smoking cessation tool.  E-cigarettes are not regulated as they should be and also contain dangerous ingredients.  The effect of inhaling vapors is unknown.


  • Increasing age is a risk factor for many cancers, including lung cancer.  Approximately 70% of lung cancer patients are over 65 at diagnosis; however, younger patients do also get lung cancer.

Family history of lung cancer

  • If a family has a history of lung cancer, genetics may play a part in the development of lung cancer.

Health-related issues

  • Even among never smokers, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and asthma may increase lung cancer risk significantly.

Military service

  • Estimates are that the rate of lung cancer among veterans may be twice that of the general population. Active duty military continue to be exposed to agents that are likely to increase their future risk, as well.


  • Asbestos is a mineral fiber that has been used in the manufacturing of many products for decades, including insulation and tiles. Most exposure has been heavily concentrated in the mechanical, construction and shipbuilding industries. Asbestos exposure increases the risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma.


Other environmental exposures

  • Including industrial chemicals such as arsenic, beryllium, uranium, air pollution from vehicle and diesel exhaust and industrial and residential emissions, as well as those from power plants.

  • There is evidence that exposure to industrial chemicals in certain occupations or industries increases the risk of lung cancer.

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