Who is affected by lung cancer?

William D. Bolton, MD
Thoracic Surgery (Cardiothoracic Vascular)
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States.  Lung cancer can affect anyone. However, it occurs most commonly in people who smoke cigarettes. Others at risk include people who are exposed to secondhand smoke or those who have environmental risk factors, such as exposure to radon gas, asbestos, arsenic, silica, and chromium. 
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Both men and women are affected by lung cancer, and it occurs among all ethnic groups as well. Age plays some role because the vast majority of lung cancer patients are over 50 years of age. However, it rarely occurs in younger people in their 20s and 30s.

Lung cancer is a disease contracted predominately by people who habitually smoke cigarettes or other tobacco products. Although not all lung cancer patients are smokers, the vast majority (85-90%) have a significant smoking history. There is a proven biochemical link between cancer-causing chemicals (known as "carcinogens") in cigarette smoke and the development of lung cancer. The risk of cancer increases with smoking duration (years) and intensity (packs per day). Smoking cessation will decrease the risk of lung cancer; however it takes 5 years before the risk begins to decline and though it gradually decreases, it will never quite reach the baseline level of a person who has never smoked. Even 20 years after stopping smoking, an ex-smoker with a "20 pack year" history (1 pack a day for 20 years) remains twice as likely to get lung cancer as a lifelong nonsmoker.

There is a somewhat lower risk of lung cancer development from exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke as well as exposure to materials such as radon, uranium, beryllium and silica.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.