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5 Lung Cancer Risk Factors That Aren’t Smoking

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Lung cancer accounts for approximately 25% of all cancer deaths each year. While not all lung cancers are preventable, risk can be reduced by not smoking and leading an active healthy lifestyle with proper diet and exercise.

On November 15, thousands of smokers will join together for the Great American Smokeout – a day to start living healthier by leading a smoke-free life. Tobacco smoke is the leading risk factor for developing lung cancer. Despite this, nearly 38 million Americans still smoke today. Unfortunately, even if that number was reduced to zero, there are still a number of factors that could increase risk of lung cancer.

Lung Cancer Risk Factors 

Radon – an odorless, colorless naturally existing radioactive gas usually found in igneous rock, soil, and in some cases, water. Radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer. It’s estimated that nearly 8 million homes in the U.S. have elevated levels of radon. You can test your home for radon with a home kit or by hiring a certified radon measurement professional.

Secondhand Smoke – secondhand smoke exposure caused more than 7,300 lung cancer deaths each year during 2005–2009 among adult nonsmokers in the United States. Secondhand smoke may also increase the risk of certain cancers, such as breast cancer in adults, and leukemia in children. Avoid sharing enclosed spaces with those who are smoking, as even low levels of smoke can be dangerous.

Family History – genes and inherited genetic mutations may play a role in the likelihood of developing lung cancer. If you have a personal history as a lung cancer survivor, you have an increased risk of developing a recurrence of the original cancer, a second primary lung cancer, and the potential for other smoking-related cancers. This risk may also increase if you are a survivor who smokes, or had radiation therapy to the chest.

Asbestos – exposure to products containing asbestos may cause a rare form of lung cancer called Mesothelioma. Symptoms do not usually show up until the cancer has grown and spread, which can take 20-50 years. Early diagnosis has the possibility of increasing life expectancy with this cancer, so it’s important to speak to a specialist if you have had prolonged exposure to asbestos.

Chemicals and other substances – hazardous chemicals found in the workplace that may increase the risk of developing lung cancer include:

  • arsenic
  • diesel exhaust
  • some forms of silica and chromium
  • some petroleum products
  • cadmium
  • chromium
  • nickel
  • uranium

Lung Cancer Symptoms

Lung cancer symptoms typically do not show up until the cancer has spread, although some early cases can have common signs to look for. If you experience chronic infections such as pneumonia or bronchitis, a persistent cough that gets worse instead of better, or any of the following symptoms, you may want to see a physician:

  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain that’s worse with coughing, laughing, or deep breathing
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Coughing up blood or rust-colored phlegm
  • Hoarse throat
  • Weakness or feeling tired

If lung cancer is suspected after a physical examination and evaluation of personal history, your healthcare provider will order a chest x-ray, CT scan, or sputum cytology to help make an official diagnosis or order additional tests.

More Resources

Here are some additional support resources on risks, causes, and prevention of lung cancer.

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