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Risk factors and causes of lung cancer

Lung cancer is the most common cancer in the world with over 46,000 people are diagnosed with in the UK every year. There are many different causes of lung cancer.

People in certain occupations have a higher risk of developing lung cancer
People in certain occupations have a higher risk of developing lung cancer

Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. This means smokers and ex-smokers have an increased risk of getting lung cancer. However it is by no means the only cause; in fact 28% of lung cancer cases aren’t caused by smoking.

If you have lungs, you can get lung cancer. By knowing the common causes of lung cancer and taking steps to avoid or address them can help reduce your risk of getting the disease.

Causes of lung cancer

  • Smoking
  • Passive smoking
  • Exposure to asbestos, radon gas and other occupational chemicals
  • Diesel fumes
  • Poor diet
  • Lack of exercise.

Reduce your risk

Lung cancer does not discriminate; anyone can get the disease so it is important everyone does everything they can to reduce their risk.

If you are still smoking, the best way to reduce your risk of getting lung cancer is to stop. It is never too late to stop smoking and there are many immediate and long term benefits to stopping.

For help and advice about quitting, visit our Stop Smoking pages or join our free online forum, Quit Support.

The people on the Quit Support site have kept me going. They are all very supportive and do not judge you whatsoever.

Debra, Quit Support member

Exposure to second hand smoke is also a cause of lung cancer so it is important to avoid second hand smoke as much as possible.

If any of your family members smoke, ask them to go outside and not smoke in the house or car. Better still, encourage them to stop smoking for good – for their health and yours too.

Poor diet can also cause lung cancer so it is important you eat well and exercise regularly. Eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Reduce your fat intake and eat less sugar and salt.

We also recommend eating healthier proteins like fresh chicken, fish and/or pulses and reduce the amount of red and processed meats.

The less alcohol you drink, the lower your risk of all cancers, including lung cancer. Men and women are advised to drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week.

How many units are you drinking?

  • One bottle of wine is just under 10 units
  • A 250ml glass of wine is 3.5 units
  • A pint of ordinary strength (3-4%) lager, cider or bitter is 2 units. Premium strength (5-5.5%) lager, cider or bitter is 3 units.
  • A single measure (25ml) of spirits is 1 unit
  • An alcopop (5%) is 1.5 units.

Being active and taking regular exercise not only reduces your risk of developing cancer, it also has many other benefits. It can improve your mood, reduce stress and boost your energy. It also helps reduce the risk of falls in older adults.

Regular exercise reduces your risk of developing cancer, including lung cancer
Regular exercise reduces your risk of developing cancer, including lung cancer

Adults are recommended to do at least 2 and a half hours of exercise each week. We’re not taking about running marathons; it’s anything that increases your heart rate, makes you a little bit out of breath and warms you up. This can include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Household chores
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Gardening
  • Dancing
  • Yoga and/or pilates
  • Sports.

It is difficult to completely avoid air pollution, particularly if you live and/or work in a major city.

However, it is important to remember your risk of getting lung cancer which is caused by air pollution is relatively low; approximately 8% of all lung cancer cases are caused by air pollution.

Cycling is a great way to get fit and reduce air pollution
Cycling is a great way to get fit and reduce air pollution

Instead, we should all concentrate on playing our part in reducing air pollution levels. This can include walking or cycling to places instead of going in the car, or for places further afield, take public transport.

Radon gas is a natural gas that comes from rocks and soil. If it builds up indoors, it can increase a person’s risk of lung cancer.

Radon levels are generally low in the UK. However, some areas including the south-west of England and parts of Wales, can experience higher levels.

Public Health England’s UK Radon Map can tell you more about the levels of radon gas in your region.