man smoking next to woman
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Secondhand Smoke

You don’t have to light up to be at risk for cancer. Just being in a room with folks who do can bring it on. Every year in the U.S. over 7,000 nonsmokers die from lung cancer caused by secondhand fumes. Live with a smoker and you could boost your odds of lung cancer by up to 30%.

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woman in city smog
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Air Pollution

The World Health Organization named air pollution a cause of lung cancer in 2013. Lots of junk in the air we breathe -- exhaust, chemicals, dust -- factor in as well. But bad air as a whole, especially outside the U.S., is a major problem because of the sheer number of people who have to breathe it.

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Today this mineral is officially classified as a cause of cancer. It’s been banned for new uses since 1989, but for centuries folks weren’t aware of the dangers it posed. It was widely used to insulate and fireproof buildings. If you’re in the construction business, especially if you work on older buildings, you could be at risk.

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This colorless, odorless gas forms as soil and rocks break down. As that happens, it seeps into buildings. It’s also radioactive and the second-leading cause of lung cancer (behind smoking) in the U.S. Radon is responsible for as many as 21,000 lung cancer deaths a year.

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old family photo
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Your Family History

If you have lung cancer in the family tree, you may be more likely to get it yourself. It’s not clear if that’s due to genetics or because family members often live where causes like secondhand smoke, radon, and other things are in play.

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three alcoholic drinks
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It’s hard to tease out the link between booze and lung cancer because so many people smoke when they drink. But one study suggests heavy alcohol use is tied to the disease, even among nonsmokers. Researchers followed more than 100,000 people and found those who have more than three drinks a day were more likely to get lung cancer.

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radiation therapy
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Radiation Therapy

Doctors use high doses of it to kill cancer cells. But despite all the good it can do, this treatment is considered a potential cause for secondary cancers. Lots of things can factor in: The dosage, your age, and the area treated all play a role. Still, it’s worth talking to your doctor about the risks.

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What You Eat

A high-carbohydrate diet, which leads to high blood sugar and insulin resistance, has been linked to lung cancer. Eat fewer foods that are high on the glycemic index -- white breads, Russet potatoes, white rice -- and you might keep lung cancer at bay.

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hiv positve test
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If you have HIV, which causes AIDS, you may be more likely to get lung cancer. Research is ongoing to see if the human papilloma virus (HPV) which causes almost all cases of cervical cancer can also increase the risk for lung cancer. The measles virus has also been linked to it.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 08/01/2018 Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on August 01, 2018


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National Cancer Institute: “Secondhand Smoke and Cancer.”

American Cancer Society: “World Health Organization: Outdoor Air Pollution Causes Cancer.”

National Cancer Institute: “Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risk.”

American Cancer Society: “Radon and Cancer.”

Notadori, J. Chest Journal, October 2006.

American Cancer Society: “Small cell lung cancer risk factors.”

Bandera, E. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, August 2001.

Siu, S. Chest Journal, October 2011.

American Cancer Society: “Radiation Therapy.”

American Cancer Society: “How does radiation therapy affect the risk of second cancers?”

American Association for Cancer Research: “High Glycemic Index Associated With Increased Risk of Lung Cancer.”

Melknoian, S. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, March 2016.

American Diabetes Association: “Glycemic Index and Diabetes.”

American Association for Cancer Research: “High Glycemic Index Associated With Increased Risk of Lung Cancer.”

American Cancer Society: “Viruses that can lead to cancer.”

Klein, F. Lung Cancer, July 2009.

Slatore, C. Journal of Clinical Oncology, March 2010.

Breast “Hormone Replacement Therapy May Up Risk of Lung Cancer.”

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on August 01, 2018

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

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