Lung Cancer

Season 18
Episode 1804

The diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer has been one of the most hopeful advances in medicine over the past several years. The new lung cancer screening guidelines allow for the screening for younger individuals with less of a smoking history – making lung cancer a disease that is no longer a death sentence.

The following information is from the CDC

What is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer begins in the lungs and may spread to lymph nodes or other organs in the body, such as the brain. Cancer from other organs also may spread to the lungs. When cancer cells spread from one organ to another, they are called metastases.

Lung cancers usually are grouped into two main types called small cell and non-small cell (including adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma). These types of lung cancer grow differently and are treated differently. Non-small cell lung cancer is more common than small cell lung cancer.

Risk Factors:


Cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer. In the United States, cigarette smoking is linked to about 80% to 90% of lung cancer deaths. Using other tobacco products such as cigars or pipes also increases the risk for lung cancer. Tobacco smoke is a toxic mix of more than 7,000 chemicals. Many are poisons. At least 70 are known to cause cancer in people or animals.

People who smoke cigarettes are 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from lung cancer than people who do not smoke. Even smoking a few cigarettes a day or smoking occasionally increases the risk of lung cancer. The more years a person smokes and the more cigarettes smoked each day, the more risk goes up.

People who quit smoking have a lower risk of lung cancer than if they had continued to smoke, but their risk is higher than the risk for people who never smoked. Quitting smoking at any age can lower the risk of lung cancer.

Cigarette smoking can cause cancer almost anywhere in the body. Cigarette smoking causes cancer of the mouth and throat, esophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, liver, pancreas, voicebox (larynx), trachea, bronchus, kidney and renal pelvis, urinary bladder, and cervix, and causes acute myeloid leukemia.

Need Help Quitting?

Secondhand Smoke

Smoke from other people’s cigarettes, pipes, or cigars (secondhand smoke) also causes lung cancer. When a person breathes in secondhand smoke, it is like he or she is smoking. In the United States, one out of four people who don’t smoke, including 14 million children, were exposed to secondhand smoke during 2013 to 2014.


After smoking, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Radon is a naturally occurring gas that forms in rocks, soil, and water. It cannot be seen, tasted, or smelled. When radon gets into homes or buildings through cracks or holes, it can get trapped and build up in the air inside. People who live or work in these homes and buildings breathe in high radon levels. Over long periods of time, radon can cause lung cancer.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)external icon estimates that radon causes about 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year. The risk of lung cancer from radon exposure is higher for people who smoke than for people who don’t smoke. However, the EPA estimatesexternal icon that more than 10% of radon-related lung cancer deaths occur among people who have never smoked cigarettes. Nearly one out of every 15 homes in the United States has high radon levels. Learn how to test your home for radon and reduce the radon level if it is high.

Other Substances

Examples of substances found at some workplaces that increase risk include asbestos, arsenic, diesel exhaust, and some forms of silica and chromium. For many of these substances, the risk of getting lung cancer is even higher for those who smoke.

Personal or Family History of Lung Cancer

If you are a lung cancer survivor, there is a risk that you may develop another lung cancer, especially if you smoke. Your risk of lung cancer may be higher if your parents, brothers or sisters, or children have had lung cancer. This could be true because they also smoke, or they live or work in the same place where they are exposed to radon and other substances that can cause lung cancer.

Radiation Therapy to the Chest

Cancer survivors who had radiation therapy to the chest are at higher risk of lung cancer.


Scientists are studying many different foods and dietary supplements to see whether they change the risk of getting lung cancer. There is much we still need to know. We do know that people who smoke and take beta-carotene supplements have increased risk of lung cancer. For more information, visit Lung Cancer Prevention.external icon

Also, arsenic and radon in drinking water (primarily from private wells) can increase the risk of lung cancer.

For more information about Lung Cancer visit the CDC website.





American Cancer Society
American Cancer Society's resources on dealing with and treating lung cancer.
US National Library of Medicine, NIH
Article from the National Library of Medicine on the epidemology, etiology and prevention of lung cancer.
Lung Cancer Society of America
Lung Cancer Society of America's 29 statistics and facts to know about lung cancer.
Transcript PDF