Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer deaths for both men and women. This year, an estimated 235,760 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer and about 131,880 will die of the disease.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of all cancer deaths. According to 2021 estimates of the American Cancer Society, 235,760 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year and 131,880 will die of the disease. Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. About 80% of lung cancer deaths in women and 90% of lung cancer deaths in men are related to cigarette smoking.
Cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer. In the United States, cigarette smoking is linked to about 90% of lung cancers. Using other tobacco products such as cigars or pipes also increases the risk for lung cancer. Tobacco smoke is a toxic mix of more than 7,000 chemicals. Many are poisons. At least 70 are known to cause cancer in people or animals.
People who smoke cigarettes are 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from lung cancer than people who do not smoke. Even smoking a few cigarettes a day or smoking occasionally increases the risk of lung cancer. The more years a person smokes and the more cigarettes smoked each day, the more risk goes up.
People who quit smoking have a lower risk of lung cancer than if they had continued to smoke, but their risk is higher than the risk for people who never smoked. Quitting smoking at any age can lower the risk of lung cancer.
Cigarette smoking can cause cancer almost anywhere in the body. Cigarette smoking causes cancer of the mouth and throat, esophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, liver, pancreas, voicebox (larynx), trachea, bronchus, kidney and renal pelvis, urinary bladder, and cervix, and causes acute myeloid leukemia.
Smoke from other people’s cigarettes, pipes, or cigars (secondhand smoke) also causes lung cancer. When a person breathes in secondhand smoke, it is like he or she is smoking. In the United States, two out of five adults who don’t smoke and half of children are exposed to secondhand smoke, and about 7,300 people who never smoked die from lung cancer due to secondhand smoke every year.
Radon is a naturally occurring gas that comes from rocks and dirt and can get trapped in houses and buildings. It cannot be seen, tasted, or smelled. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon causes about 20,000 cases of lung cancer each year, making it the second leading cause of lung cancer. Nearly one out of every 15 homes in the U.S. is thought to have high radon levels. The EPA recommends testing homes for radon and using proven ways to lower high radon levels.
Examples of substances found at some workplaces that increase risk include asbestos, arsenic, diesel exhaust, and some forms of silica and chromium. For many of these substances, the risk of getting lung cancer is even higher for those who smoke.
If you are a lung cancer survivor, there is a risk that you may develop another lung cancer, especially if you smoke. Your risk of lung cancer may be higher if your parents, brothers or sisters, or children have had lung cancer. This could be true because they also smoke, or they live or work in the same place where they are exposed to radon and other substances that can cause lung cancer.
Cancer survivors who had radiation therapy to the chest are at higher risk of lung cancer.
Scientists are studying many different foods and dietary supplements to see whether they change the risk of getting lung cancer. There is much we still need to know. We do know that smokers who take beta-carotene supplements have increased risk of lung cancer. For more information, visit Lung Cancer Prevention.
Also, arsenic in drinking water (primarily from private wells) can increase the risk of lung cancer. For more information, visit the EPA’s Arsenic in Drinking Water.
Different people have different symptoms for lung cancer. Some people have symptoms related to the lungs. Some people whose lung cancer has spread to other parts of the body (metastasized) have symptoms specific to that part of the body. Some people just have general symptoms of not feeling well. Most people with lung cancer don’t have symptoms until the cancer is advanced. Lung cancer symptoms may include—
Other changes that can sometimes occur with lung cancer may include repeated bouts of pneumonia and swollen or enlarged lymph nodes (glands) inside the chest in the area between the lungs.
These symptoms can happen with other illnesses, too. If you have some of these symptoms, talk to your doctor, who can help find the cause.
You can help lower your risk of lung cancer in the following ways—
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends yearly lung cancer screening with LDCT for people who—
Heavy smoking means a smoking history of 20 pack-years or more. A pack-year is smoking an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year. For example, a person could have a 30 pack-year history by smoking one pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years.