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Did You Know?
  • More people die from lung cancer than any other type of cancer.
  • In 2004 (the most recent year for which statistics are currently available), lung cancer accounted for more deaths than breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer combined.
  • Since 1987, more women have died each year of lung cancer than from breast cancer.
  • Although 85% of lung cancer diagnoses occur among current or former smokers, 15% of lung cancer patients never smoked a day in their lives.
  • Lung Cancer is a cancer that forms in tissues of the lung, usually in the cells lining air passages. The two main types are small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. These types are diagnosed based on how the cells look under a microscope.
  • According to the National Cancer Institute, the estimated new cases and deaths from lung cancer (non-small cell and small cell combined) in the United States in 2008 are: new cases - 215,020 and deaths - 161,840.
  • Among men and women, black men have the highest incidence and death rates from lung cancer followed by somewhat lower rates for non-Hispanic white men. The highest lung cancer incidence and death rates occur in non-Hispanic white women with slightly lower rates found in black women.
  • Cancer-causing agents that may be found indoors, especially in the workplace, include asbestos, radon, arsenic, chromium, nickel, tar, and soot. These substances can cause lung cancer in people who have never smoked.
  • Air pollution may also increase the risk of lung cancer. Studies show that lung cancer rates are higher in cities with higher levels of air pollution.
  • Second-hand tobacco smoke also causes lung cancer. This is smoke that comes from a burning cigarette or other tobacco product, or smoke that is exhaled by smokers. People who inhale second-hand smoke are exposed to the same cancer-causing agents as smokers, although in weaker amounts.
According to the National Cancer Institute, doctors cannot always explain why one person develops lung cancer and another does not. However, they do know that a person with certain risk factors may be more likely than others to develop the disease.
Risk Factors
  • Tobacco smoke: Tobacco smoke causes most cases of lung cancer. It's by far the most important risk factor for lung cancer. Harmful substances in smoke damage lung cells. That's why smoking cigarettes, pipes, or cigars can cause lung cancer and why secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer in nonsmokers. The more a person is exposed to smoke, the greater the risk of lung cancer.
  • Radon: Radon is a radioactive gas that you cannot see, smell, or taste. It forms in soil and rocks. People who work in mines may be exposed to radon. In some parts of the country, radon is found in houses. Radon damages lung cells, and people exposed to radon are at increased risk of lung cancer.
  • Asbestos and other substances: People who have certain jobs (such as those who work in the construction and chemical industries) have an increased risk of lung cancer. Exposure to asbestos, arsenic, chromium, nickel, soot, tar, and other substances can cause lung cancer. The risk is highest for those with years of exposure. The risk of lung cancer from these substances is even higher for smokers.
  • Air pollution: Air pollution may slightly increase the risk of lung cancer. The risk from air pollution is higher for smokers.
  • Family history of lung cancer: People with a father, mother, brother, or sister who had lung cancer may be at slightly increased risk of the disease, even if they don't smoke.
  • Personal history of lung cancer: People who have had lung cancer are at increased risk of developing a second lung tumor.
  • Age over 65: Most people are older than 65 years when diagnosed with lung cancer. [1]
Do You Think You are at Risk?
After reading the risk factors above, if you think you might be at risk for developing lung cancer, you should talk to your doctor immediately. Your doctor may be able to help you reduce your risk and plan the necessary checkups to monitor your health. If you have been diagnosed with and treated for lung cancer, it is very important for you to routinely schedule check-ups with your doctor following your course of treatment.

[1] What You Need to Know about Lung Cancer, National Cancer Institute (NCI), [NIH Publication No. 07-1553].