Lung Cancer: It’s Not Just Cigarettes.

Five pro tips on how you can reduce your risk of lung cancer.

If you came to hear me scream about the perils of tobacco, let me get this out of the way: Cigarette smoking is associated with about 90 percent of lung cancer in the United States. Now that we have that clearly stated let’s pivot to some other risk factors.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of death from cancer worldwide in men and the second leading cause in women. Worldwide, lung cancer occurred in 2.1 million patients in 2018 and caused an estimated 1.8 million deaths.

Sometimes lung cancer arises in the setting of no apparent cause. In uncommon cases, inherited genetics may play a role. While there is no way to reduce one’s lung cancer chances to zero, there are ways we can drop the risk of developing cancer in general (and lung cancer in particular).

We know the significant role tobacco can play in cancer. So the first pro tip is one you already know: Avoid tobacco. But avoiding cigarettes aside, what are practical ways we can lower the probability of getting lung cancer?

Physical activity offers innumerable health benefits. But did you know that exercise may reduce your risk of getting lung cancer? You may be surprised to learn that the answer is yes. A City of Hope (California, USA) study showed that physical activity could reduce the risk of developing lung cancer by nearly a third for women and up to half for men.

The workplace can be a place with chemicals that increase your likelihood of getting lung cancer. Such carcinogens include asbestos. For example, because construction in the past has often used asbestos, construction workers can be at a higher risk of lung cancer.

Those who worked in shipbuilding and insulation can be at exceptionally high risk. Make sure that you have appropriate protective gear if you work in an environment of risk. Even family members can experience an increased risk, as the asbestos fibers could be carried home on a worker’s clothing.

Fortunately, asbestos use is on the decline in the USA. Still, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) estimates that over a million American employees in construction and general industries face significant asbestos exposure on the job.

House ventilation. What, you might ask? We turn to the naturally occurring radioactive gas, radon. Occurring naturally in the earth’s crust, it can be in our homes, with upwards of 10 percent of lung cancer cases secondary to radon exposure. Basements and lower levels of buildings in specific geographic regions can be particularly problematic.

Go here to get advice on checking levels in your home: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers advice on checking radon levels at home. While we are on the topic of environmental toxins, air pollution comes to mind.

In a 2018 study, three separate meta-analyses have shown a link between greater air pollution and a significant increase in lung cancer risk. Association is not causality, but moving to a less polluted area may reduce one’s risk of developing lung cancer.

I want to end by reminding you of some early symptoms of lung cancer. The most common symptoms include a new cough of two to three weeks’ duration, a chronic cough that worsens over time, a recurrent chest infection, and shortness of breath.

If you have any of these symptoms, it does not necessarily mean they have lung cancer, but they should seek medical attention immediately. Finally, if you have a history of smoking, ask your care provider if you are a candidate for lung cancer screening with a low-dose CT scan.

Thank you for joining me today.


Medika Life has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your health care provider(s). We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by Medika Life

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Michael Hunter, MD
Michael Hunter, MD
I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

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