Risk factors are the inherited or acquired factors that increase the chance of developing cancer in a person. Several epidemiological studies have suggested a number of genetic and environmental factors that may predispose to lung cancer. A knowledge about them helps us to make necessary lifestyle choices.
Lung cancer risk factors
- Tobacco/cigarette smoking: Smoking has been recognized as the primary cause of lung cancer and is associated with about 80% of cancer-related death.
Hence, smokers are considered to be at very high risk (around 10 folds or higher than non-smokers) of developing lung cancer. Passive smokers are also considered to be at higher risk of developing lung cancer.
- Occupational/ Environmental exposure to certain chemicals: Exposure to Radon (a radioactive gas produced from the decay of Radium or Uranium) has been reported to increase the risk of developing lung cancer.
Occupational exposure to Asbestos has been reported to increase the incidence of lung cancer in workers in mines, textile and other mills, and shipyards.
Similarly, higher incidence of lung cancer has been observed in people with occupational/environmental exposure to chemicals like arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, silica, chloromethyl ethers, hexavalent chromium, mustard gas, nickel, coal products, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
- Air Pollution: People living in an area with a high level of air pollution are considered to be at an increased risk of developing lung cancer.
- Personal or Family history: Risk of developing lung cancer increases in individuals with a personal or family history of lung cancer, especially in first-degree relatives (parents, brother, sister, or child) diagnosed with the disease at a younger age.
- Genetic alterations: Some inherited genetic alterations have been reported to be associated with a high incidence of lung cancer.
Individuals with inherited mutations in following genes have been reported to be at higher risk of developing lung cancer: retinoblastoma, p53 (Li-Fraumeni syndrome), gene for epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), etc.
- Exposure to radiation: Individuals with a history of radiation treatment (for other cancer) or exposure to ionizing radiation to the chest (for example, during an x-ray or computed tomography scan) are considered to be at increased risk of developing lung cancer, especially if they smoke.
The presence of underlying pulmonary conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis may also increase the risk of lung cancer.
In the next section, you will read about the symptoms of lung cancer.
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