Lung Cancer Home > What Causes Lung Cancer?

Although there are several risk factors that are linked to lung cancer, the most dangerous factor is smoking. The best way to prevent lung cancer is to quit (or never start) smoking. Researchers continue to study what causes lung cancer and to search for ways to prevent it.

What Causes Lung Cancer? -- An Overview

Research scientists have discovered several lung cancer causes, with most relating to the use of tobacco.
 
These lung cancer causes may include:
 
  • Cigarettes
  • Pipes and cigars
  • Environmental tobacco smoke
  • Asbestos
  • Radon
  • Lung diseases
  • Pollution
  • Personal history of lung cancer.
     
Cigarettes
Smoking cigarettes can cause lung cancer. Harmful substances (called carcinogens) in tobacco damage the cells in the lungs. Over time, the damaged cells may become cancerous. The likelihood that a smoker will develop lung cancer is affected by several factors, including:
 
  • The age at which smoking began
  • How long the person has smoked
  • The number of cigarettes smoked per day
  • How deeply the smoker inhales.
 
Quitting smoking will greatly reduce a person's risk for developing lung cancer.
 
Pipes and Cigars
Pipe and cigar smokers have a higher risk of lung cancer than nonsmokers. The number of years a person smokes, the number of pipes or cigars smoked per day, and how deeply the person inhales are all factors that will affect the risk of developing lung cancer.
 
Even pipe and cigar smokers who do not inhale are at increased risk for lung, mouth, and other types of cancer.
 
Environmental Tobacco Smoke
The chance of developing lung cancer is increased by exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) -- the smoke in the air when someone else smokes. Exposure to ETS, or secondhand smoke, is called involuntary or passive smoking.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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