Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Cigarette smoking is the most important cause of lung cancer. Research as far back as the 1950s clearly established this relationship.
Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals,
many of which have been identified as causing cancer.
A person who smokes more than one pack of cigarettes
per day has a 20-25 times greater risk of developing lung cancer than someone
who has never smoked.
Once a person quits smoking, his or her risk for lung
cancer gradually decreases. About 15 years after quitting, the risk for lung
cancer decreases to the level of someone who never smoked.
Cigar and pipe smoking increases the risk of lung cancer but not as much as
About 90% of lung cancers arise due to tobacco use. The risk of developing
lung cancer is related to the following factors:
The number of cigarettes smoked
The age at which a person started smoking
How long a person has smoked (or had smoked before quitting)
Other causes of lung cancer, including causes of lung cancer in nonsmokers, include the following:
Passive smoking, or secondhand smoke,
presents another risk for lung cancer. An estimated 3,000 lung cancer deaths
occur each year in the U.S. that are attributable to passive smoking.
Air pollution from motor vehicles, factories, and
other sources probably increase the risk for lung cancer, and many experts
believe that prolonged exposure to polluted air is similar to prolonged
exposure to passive smoking in terms of risk for developing lung cancer.
increases the risk of lung cancer nine times. A combination of asbestos exposure
and cigarette smoking raises the risk to as much as 50 times. Another cancer
known as mesothelioma (a type
of cancer of the lining of the chest cavity called the pleura or of the lining of the abdominal cavity called the
peritoneum) is also strongly associated with exposure to asbestos.
Lung diseases, such as tuberculosis (TB) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), also create a
risk for lung cancer. A person with COPD has a four to six times greater risk
of lung cancer even when the effect of cigarette smoking is excluded.
Radon exposure poses another risk.
Radon is a by-product of naturally occurring
radium, which is a product of uranium.
Radon is present in indoor and outdoor air.
The risk for lung cancer increases with significant
long-term exposure to radon, although no one knows the exact risk. An
estimated 12% of lung cancer deaths are attributable to radon gas, or about
21,000 lung cancer-related deaths annually in the U.S. Radon gas is the
second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States after cigarette
smoking. As with asbestos exposure,
smoking greatly increases the risk of lung cancer with radon exposure.
Certain occupations where exposure to arsenic, chromium, nickel, aromatic hydrocarbons, and ethers occurs may increase the
risk of lung cancer.
A person who has had lung cancer is more likely to develop a second lung cancer than the average person is to develop a first lung cancer.