About Lung Cancer

What should people know about cancer of the lung and bronchus?

The lungs are the organs we use to breathe. The bronchus is one of the two tubes that lead from the windpipe (trachea) to the lung.

Lung cancer is one of the most common cancers among New Yorkers. In New York it is the leading cause of cancer deaths. Each year over 6,700 men and over 7,200 women are diagnosed with lung cancer and about 3,800 men and over 3,600 women die from this disease. In New York State, lung cancer death rates among men and women have been declining since 1995, but the decline among women has been slower.

Who gets lung cancer?

Men have higher lung cancer rates than women because more men than women are current or former smokers. As women started smoking in numbers similar to men, more women began to get lung cancer. The number of women in New York State who get lung cancer is greater than the number of men who get lung cancer because there are more older women than older men, and older people are more likely to get lung cancer.

In men, lung cancer rates are higher among non-Hispanic White and non-Hispanic Black men, compared to men who are Hispanic, or Asian, or Pacific Islander. Non-Hispanic White women have higher lung cancer rates than women of other racial or ethnic groups. Again, this reflects the smoking patterns of these groups.

What factors increase risk for developing lung cancer?

At this time, all of the causes of lung cancer are not well understood. However, scientists agree that certain factors increase a person's risk of developing this disease. These risk factors include:

  • Smoking. Smoking is the most important cause of lung cancer. Although it is preventable, smoking is highly addictive and quitting is difficult. Not all people who get lung cancer are smokers. Research studies show that exposure to other people's cigarettes (second hand smoke) also increases a person's risk of getting lung cancer. Scientists believe that smoking is responsible for over 80% of lung cancers.
  • Radon gas. Exposure to radon gas has been estimated to be the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. The risk of lung cancer from radon exposure is higher in people who smoke.
  • Asbestos in the workplace. People exposed to high levels of asbestos on the job, such as shipbuilders and pipefitters, have an increased risk of lung cancer. This risk is increased even more in workers who smoke.
  • Ionizing Radiation. Exposure to high levels of ionizing radiation, such as radiation treatments for other cancers, increases risk for getting lung cancer.
  • Personal history. People who have had lung cancer are at increased risk of developing lung cancer again.
  • Family history. People with a close relative who had lung cancer may have an increased risk for the disease, even if they do not smoke.
  • Other lung diseases. People with a history of certain other diseases of the lung, such as tuberculosis (TB), are at increased risk of developing lung cancer.
  • Other workplace exposures. Other chemicals or substances that may be found at high levels in certain workplaces have been identified as risk factors for lung cancer. These include arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, vinyl chloride, nickel compounds, chromium compounds, coal products, tars and soot, chloromethyl ethers and diesel exhaust.

What other risk factors for lung cancer are scientists studying?

Some studies have shown that living in an area with urban air pollution may increase lung cancer risk slightly, but much less than smoking. Studies also suggest that eating a diet low in fruits and vegetables might increase the risk of lung cancer among people who smoke. Additional research is needed to determine the role, if any, these factors may have in the development of lung cancer.

What can I do to reduce my chances of getting lung cancer?

The following may help reduce the risk of developing lung cancer:

  • Do not smoke. If you currently smoke, talk to your doctor for help quitting. Medications and counseling double your chances of quitting successfully. Avoid exposure to second hand smoke. For more information on quitting smoking, visit the NYS Smoker's Quitline at www.nysmokefree.com or call 1-866-NY-QUITS.
  • Have your home tested for radon, especially if you live in a high radon area. If radon levels in your home are high, make the necessary modifications. For more information on radon visit www.health.ny.gov/environmental/radiological/radon/radon.htm or call 1-800-458-1158.
  • Be aware of workplace health and safety rules and follow them.
  • Discuss the risks and benefits of medical imaging, such as CT scans, with your health care provider to avoid unnecessary exposure to ionizing radiation. This is particularly important for children.
  • Be aware of your family history and discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

Lung cancer screening is recommended for men and women between the ages of 50 and 80 years who have a history of heavy smoking, and who smoke now or have quit within the last 15 years. Screening people who are at high risk for lung cancer can find lung cancer at an early stage and improve their chances of surviving. The screening test for lung cancer is low-dose computed tomography (also called low-dose CT scan or LDCT). Talk with your health care provider to find out if this test is right for you.

How else can I reduce my risk of cancer?

  • Choose a healthy diet to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Eat more vegetables, fruits and whole grains and eat less red and processed (e.g., bacon, sausage, luncheon meats, hot dogs) meats. These actions may reduce the risk of developing many types of cancer as well as other diseases.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Talk with your health care provider about recommended cancer screenings.

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