Lung Cancer — If You’re a Nonsmoker, What are Your Risks?

About 158,000 Americans die from lung cancer each year. Using tobacco products has a well-known connection to the disease.

But as many as 24,000 of those Americans did not smoke or use any form of tobacco. Lung cancer in nonsmokers has become one of the 10 most fatal cancers.

Why Does This Happen?

Not using tobacco products greatly reduces the risk of lung cancer, but according to the American Cancer Society, we still have other risks to our lungs.

Air pollution — Some common sources are linked to cancer, including:

  • Radon gas — The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers. Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas. It occurs naturally outdoors, but sometimes becomes concentrated in homes built on soil with natural uranium deposits.
  • Secondhand smoke — It contains the same harmful chemicals smokers inhale. If you’re near a smoker, you’ll inhale the chemicals, too.

Pollutants at work — These risks can affect anyone, but those who work around them regularly have a higher risk. They include:

  • Asbestos — A natural mineral found in some rocks. It was a common building material in the past. Because of its link to cancer, its use is now controlled to reduce exposure.
  • Diesel exhaust — This comes from a variety of trucks, buses, farm implements and other engines.

Gene mutations — Researchers are learning more about what causes cells to become cancerous. The information is helping scientists develop drugs that target mutations.

How Can You Reduce Your Risks?

Being a nonsmoker is the best thing you can do to reduce your risk of lung cancer.

You can also:

  • Test your home for radon. A home radon test kit will let you know if you have an issue.
  • Avoid second-hand smoke. Smoking bans in public places have helped reduce this risk.
  • Limit your exposure to pollutants at work.
  • Eat a healthy diet including lots of fruits and vegetables. They can help reduce your risks.

If you have questions about your health risks, check with your health care provider. Information you can provide about your exposure to risks and your family medical history will be helpful.

Meet the Author

Malik T. Bandealy, MD is an Oncology/Hematology physician at Aurora Advanced Healthcare in Kenosha, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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