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6 Ways to Lower Your Lung Cancer Odds (Besides Not Smoking)

You know you shouldn't smoke. But there are other things you can do to lower your risk of developing lung cancer.

Medically reviewed in January 2022

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Lung cancer is the second most common cancer among men and women in the United States. It’s also the leading cause of cancer-related deaths, by far. More than 131,000 Americans are projected to die of lung cancer in 2021 alone, according to the American Cancer Society.

While certain factors, like your genetic predisposition, are uncontrollable, there’s actually quite a bit you can do to help reduce your risk of lung cancer.

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The first step: quit smoking

This may seem obvious, but it’s the most essential step toward lung cancer prevention. That’s because smoking is the main cause of lung cancer. The habit is linked to 80 percent of lung cancer deaths in women, and as many as 90 percent in men.

Fortunately, it’s never too late to give up cigarettes. “The risk of lung cancer diminishes over the years once you stop smoking,” says Zachary Spigelman, MD, director of Lahey Oncology and Hematology at Parkland Medical Center in Derry, New Hampshire. “You’ll also experience cardiovascular benefits, as well as reduced health risks to pretty much every other organ in your body.”

It’s equally important to avoid secondhand smoke. Even if you’ve never smoked cigarettes, exposure to secondhand smoke—whether from cigarettes, pipes, cigars or other smoked tobacco products—can increase your risk of developing lung cancer. Along with making your home smoke-free, be sure to avoid areas where you and your family may be more likely to breathe in smoke from other people, either at work or when out in public. “No one should be exposed to secondhand smoke, especially children and pregnant women,” says Dr. Spigelman.

Aside from quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke, there are other ways to reduce your risk of developing lung cancer.

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Test your home for radon

Radon is an invisible, odorless, tasteless gas that, when inhaled regularly, is one of the leading causes of lung cancer, especially among non-smokers. Most radon exposure occurs indoors, in homes, offices and schools. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends having radon levels in your home checked, either with an at-home kit or by a professional. If levels are 4.0 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or higher, find a qualified contractor who can seal any cracks in the floors and walls and increase ventilation throughout your home. When it comes to reducing your risk of lung cancer, preventing radon exposure is second to quitting smoking, explains Spigelman.

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Limit chemical exposure

Other toxic substances like asbestos, uranium, arsenic and diesel exhaust can contribute to lung cancer. Exposure to these chemicals often occurs in the workplace. The good news? In recent years, the government has taken steps to help protect against workplace exposure to harmful chemicals. “We don’t see as many environmental carcinogens anymore,” says Spigelman. “But we certainly still need to evaluate patients who have had asbestos exposure, such as prior plumbers, or those who have worked in navy shipyards.”

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Choose healthy foods

Quitting smoking is always the best first step to reducing lung cancer risk. But after you quit, making certain healthy lifestyle changes can provide additional benefit.

Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables may actually help prevent lung cancer, according to a review of 27 studies published in January 2016 in the Annals of Oncology. A research review published in August 2019 in Nutrients revealed similar results: Higher fruit consumption was linked with lower risk of lung cancer among current and former smokers, while eating vegetables was linked with reducing the risk of lung cancer in current smokers. 

Just try to get your nutrients and minerals from whole foods as much as possible. Some nutritional supplements containing high doses of beta-carotene have been linked to the development of lung cancer among smokers, so to talk to your healthcare provider if you smoke and take supplements.

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Stay active

Exercising regularly may play an important role when it comes to lung cancer prevention. A study published in June 2016 in JAMA Internal Medicine found that people who were more active had a lower risk of developing certain types of cancer, including lung cancer. You don’t have to run marathons to get the benefit: The American Cancer Society recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (or a combination of the two) each week. Taking your dog for a brisk 30-minute walk, five days a week, would meet that quota for moderate intensity.

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Maintain a healthy weight

Eating healthy and staying active can help keep your weight in check which, in turn, may help lower your lung cancer risk. A study published in March 2018 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that people who had a higher waist circumference were more likely to develop lung cancer, even if they had a healthy BMI.

To know: Weight gain is a common side effect of quitting smoking, explains Spigelman. But there are steps you can take to manage your weight. Talk to your healthcare provider about setting a healthy weight goal and developing strategies to reach it. That might include watching portion sizes, keeping a food diary and taking daily walks.

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Consider screenings

Talk with your healthcare provider about the benefits and risks of getting screened for lung cancer. It’s a relatively quick, uncomplicated process that can be done at most local radiology centers, explains Spigelman. Current guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force indicate that you would benefit from annual screenings if you are 50 to 80 years of age, currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years and have a history of smoking the equivalent of one pack of cigarettes per day for 20 years.

Even among that population, most people do not get screened for lung cancer. Some research suggests that no more than 14 percent of those eligible actually get tested. “That’s an issue,” says Spigelman. Awareness of your risk is key for early detection.

Sources:
American Cancer Society. “Key Statistics for Lung Cancer.” Last Revised January 12, 2021.
National Cancer Institute. “Secondhand Smoke and Cancer.” Reviewed December 4, 2018.
United States Environmental Protection Agency. “What is EPA's Action Level for Radon and What Does it Mean?” Last Updated July 30, 2019.
Wang C, Yang T, Guo X-F, Li D. “The Associations of Fruit and Vegetable Intake with Lung Cancer Risk in Participants with Different Smoking Status: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies.” Nutrients. 2019;11(8).
Moore SC, Lee I-M, Weiderpass E, et al. “Association of Leisure-Time Physical Activity With Risk of 26 Types of Cancer in 1.44 Million Adults.” JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(6):816-825.
Yu D, Zheng W, Johansson M, et al. “Overall and central obesity and risk of lung cancer: A pooled analysis.” J Natl Cancer Inst. 2018;110(8):831-842.
US Preventive Services Task Force, Krist AH, Davidson KW, et al. “Screening for lung cancer.” JAMA. 2021;325(10):962.

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