Lung Cancer Risk

Researchers have identified several key factors that can increase an individual’s risk of developing lung cancer. Some of these factors, such as genetic susceptibility, cannot be controlled, while others, such as tobacco use, can be reduced substantially or eliminated through simple lifestyle changes.

The most noteworthy risk factor for lung cancer is the use of tobacco products, which is directly linked to the majority of lung cancer cases. Specifically, the smoke emitted by cigarettes, cigars and pipes contains a potent mix of thousands of chemicals, many of which are toxic or carcinogenic (cancer causing), that can make their way into the body through the lungs. Some examples include acetone, ammonia, arsenic, benzene, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, lead, nicotine and tar. This danger impacts not only smokers, but also others who breathe the air around them in the form of secondhand smoke.

A person’s lung cancer risk level is known to increase along with the number of cigarettes smoked each day, as well as the number of years that he or she smokes. Conversely, the risk declines steadily after smoking cessation, and the other health benefits, such as a reduced risk of heart attack and stroke, start almost immediately as the body begins to repair the tobacco-induced damage. For instance, within a few weeks, coughing and wheezing episodes will typically be reduced, and the body’s immune system will become stronger and better able to fight off infections.

In addition to genetics, smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke, other lung cancer risk factors include:

  • Exposure to radon gas, air pollution and other environmental hazards
  • Exposure to asbestos, diesel exhaust, silica, coal products and other industrial carcinogens
  • Prior radiation therapy delivered to the chest
  • Use of beta carotene supplements

While individuals who have one or more of these lung cancer risk factors have an increased likelihood of developing lung cancer, in no case is cancer absolutely certain to occur. In the Thoracic Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center, our multispecialty team of experts helps each patient assess his or her own risk level and, if necessary, develop an individualized plan to manage that risk of lung cancer as much as possible. Moffitt has been named a Screening Center of Excellence by the Lung Cancer Alliance, and many long-time smokers benefit from our lung cancer screening program, which is ranked among the best in the nation.

If you’d like to discuss your personal lung cancer risk profile with the experts at Moffitt Cancer Center, you do not need a referral. To request an appointment, call 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form online.