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Causes of Lung Cancer

(continued)

What causes lung cancer? continued...

Radon gas

Radon gas is a natural, chemically inert gas that is a natural decay product of uranium. It decays to form products that emit a type of ionizing radiation. Radon gas is a known cause of lung cancer, with an estimated 12% of lung cancer deaths attributable to radon gas, or 15,000 to 22,000 lung cancer-related deaths annually in the U.S. As with asbestos exposure, concomitant smoking greatly increases the risk of lung cancer with radon exposure. Radon gas can travel up through soil and enter homes through gaps in the foundation, pipes, drains, or other openings. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that one out of every 15 homes in the U.S. contains dangerous levels of radon gas. Radon gas is invisible and odorless, but can be detected with simple test kits.

Familial predisposition

While the majority of lung cancers are associated with tobacco smoking, the fact that not all smokers eventually develop lung cancer suggests that other factors, such as individual genetic susceptibility, may play a role in the causation of lung cancer. Numerous studies have shown that lung cancer is more likely to occur in both smoking and non-smoking relatives of those who have had lung cancer than in the general population. Recent research has localized a region on the long (q) arm of the human chromosome number 6 that is likely to contain a gene that confers an increased susceptibility to the development of lung cancer in smokers.

Lung disease

The presence of certain diseases of the lung, notably chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), is associated with a slightly increased risk (four to six times the risk of a nonsmoker) for the development of lung cancer even after the effects of concomitant cigarette smoking are excluded.

Prior history of lung cancer

Survivors of lung cancer have a greater risk than the general population of developing a second lung cancer. Survivors of non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLCs, see below) have an additive risk of 1-2% per year for developing a second lung cancer. In survivors of small cell lung cancers (SCLCs) the risk for development of second cancers approaches 6% per year.

Air pollution

Air pollution, from vehicles, industry, and power plants, can raise the likelihood of developing lung cancer in exposed individuals. Up to 1% of lung cancer deaths are attributable to breathing polluted air, and experts believe that prolonged exposure to highly polluted air can carry a risk similar to that of passive smoking for the development of lung cancer.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Sujana Movva, MD on July 30, 2013
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