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Lung Cancer Health Center

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Causes of Lung Cancer

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What causes lung cancer? continued...

Asbestos fibers

Asbestos fibers are silicate fibers that can persist for a lifetime in lung tissue following exposure to asbestos. The workplace is a common source of exposure to asbestos fibers, as asbestos was widely used in the past for both thermal and acoustic insulation materials. Today, asbestos use is limited or banned in many countries including the Unites States. Both lung cancer and mesothelioma (a type of cancer of the pleura or of the lining of the abdominal cavity called the peritoneum) are associated with exposure to asbestos. Cigarette smoking drastically increases the chance of developing an asbestos-related lung cancer in exposed workers. Asbestos workers who do not smoke have a fivefold greater risk of developing lung cancer than non-smokers, and those asbestos workers who smoke have a risk that is 50 to 90 times greater than non-smokers.

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 nonsmoking relatives of those who have had lung cancer than in the general population.

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