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

You know you shouldn't smoke. But there are other things you can lower your risk of developing lung cancer—all within your control.

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Lung cancer is the second most common cancer among men and women in the US. It’s also the leading cause of cancer-related deaths—more than 150,000 Americans are projected to die of lung cancer in 2018 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.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

The first step: quit smoking

2 / 8 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 much 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 our body”.

It’s equally important to avoid secondhand smoke. Even if you’ve never smoked cigarettes, exposure to secondhand smoke can increase your risk of developing lung cancer. Along with making your home cigarette-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’s still other ways you can reduce your risk of developing lung cancer.

Test your home for radon

3 / 8 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 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.

Limit chemical exposure

4 / 8 Limit chemical exposure

Other toxic substances like asbestos, uranium, arsenic and diesel exhaust can also 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. “[As a result,] we don’t see as many environmental carcinogens anymore, 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” says Spigelman.

Choose healthy foods

5 / 8 Choose healthy foods

Quitting smoking is always the best first step to take to reduce your lung cancer risk. However, after you quit, certain healthy lifestyle changes can also provide additional benefit to staying healthy.

Eating a healthful diet is important for your overall wellness. However, a review of 27 studies published in January 2016 in the Annals of Oncology also found that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables may actually help prevent lung cancer. Just be sure to talk to your doctor about any nutritional supplements you’d like to take, as those containing high doses of beta-carotene have actually been linked to the development of lung cancer among smokers. “And [beta-carotene] was actually supposed to be the next big thing in lung cancer prevention,” says Spigelman. Stick to getting your healthy nutrients and minerals from whole foods.

Stay active

6 / 8 Stay active

Exercising regularly may play an important part 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. And you don’t have to run a marathon. 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 30-minute walk, five days a week counts as enough exercise.

Maintain a healthy weight

7 / 8 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. In fact, a study published in March 2018 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that people who have a higher waist circumference are more likely to develop lung cancer—especially if they had a healthy BMI. What’s more, weight gain is a common side effect of quitting smoking, explains Speigelman.

There are steps you can take to manage your weight. Talk to your doctor about a healthy weight goal and strategies you can put in place to reach it, like watching portion sizes, keeping a food diary, and taking a daily walk. You’ll find health benefits just from losing a small percentage of your weight—and keeping it off.

Consider screenings

8 / 8 Consider screenings

Discuss the benefits and risks of geting screened for lung cancer with your doctor. Lung cancer screening is a relatively quick, uncomplicated process that can be done at most local radiology centers, explains Spigelman. Current guidelines indicate that you may benefit from screenings if you are between 55 to 74 years of age and currently smoke or have quit in the past 15 years. People who were heavy smokers (30 pack-year history) should also discuss lung cancer screenings with their doctor. However even among that population, most people have not undergone tests for cancer. “We only actually screen 2 percent of the people who need to be screened, and that’s an issue,” says Spigelman. Awareness of your risk is key for early detection.

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