Lung Cancer Risk Factors

What are Lung Cancer Risk Factors?

Anything that increases your odds of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Risk factors for all types of lung cancers include:

  • Age – About two out of three people diagnosed with lung cancer are 65 or older and less than two percent are younger that 45. Average age of diagnosis is 70
  • Genetics – People with immediate family members (parents, brothers, sisters) who have had cancer may be more likely to get the disease
  • Tobacco – Smoking is recognized as the leading cause of lung cancer. Both second-hand smoke (being exposed regularly to someone else who smokes) and the use of smoke-free tobacco products increase the risk of developing lung cancer. Anyone between ages 55 and 80 who has smoked the equivalent of a pack a day for 30 years, known as a “30-pack year,” or who currently smokes or who quit smoking less than 15 years ago is at high risk for lung cancer
  • Exposure to asbestos or other pollutants in the air – Exposure to asbestos, widely used decades ago for insulation, can increase lung cancer risks, especially for people who smoke.
  • Industrial or workplace exposure – Breathing chemicals or minerals such as arsenic, chromium, nickel, soot or tar and/or other workplace chemicals over time may increase lung cancer risk.
  • Radon – A colorless, odorless radioactive gas prevalent in certain areas of the country where uranium exists in the soil or rocks, radon poses a serious risk and is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.
  • Air pollution – Outdoor air contaminants, especially near heavily travelled roads where diesel exhaust is heavy, appear to raise the risk of lung cancer.
  • Prior cancer treatment – People who have had radiation therapy to the chest are at higher risk for lung cancer, particularly if they smoke.

Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer

Signs and symptoms are signals that something is not right in your body. 

A sign is something that can be detected by someone else, such as a medical professional during a routine health screening. 

A symptom is something the patient can feel that may not be noticed by others, such as coughing up blood, fatigue, pain or loss of appetite. 

The most common symptoms of lung cancer that should be discussed with your doctor are:

  • Coughing: A persistent cough that does not go away, changes to a chronic “smoker’s cough,” or gets worse and causes pain.
  • Coughing up blood:  Or coughing up rust-colored spit or phlegm.
  • Breathing difficulties: Shortness of breath, noisy breathing or new onset of wheezing (called stridor).
  • Loss of appetite:  And/or unintended weight loss.
  • Fatigue: Feeling tired or weak; needing to nap frequently or for extended periods.
  • Recurring Infections: Lung illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia that don’t go away or keep coming back.
  • Chest pain: Especially pain that is often worse with deep breathing, coughing, or laughing.
  • Hoarseness: A chronic raspy or ragged quality to speech.

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