Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Lung cancer risk factors

Smoking tobacco is the number one risk factor for lung cancer, although people who have never smoked can develop lung cancer, too. If you have been smoking for years, you may believe it is "too late" to quit. However, quitting at any point in time reduces your risk for developing lung cancer, as well as other cancers.

cancer risks

Non-small cell lung cancer risk factors


  • Family history: A family history of lung cancer may increase your non-small cell lung cancer risks. Some evidence points toward a genetic link in a few cases. However, researchers have not determined whether shared environmental or behavioral factors, such as radon gas or smoking, plays a greater role in a family's history of lung cancer than do genetics.


  • Tobacco use: Smoking tobacco (cigarettes, pipes or cigars) is linked to over four out five cases of all lung cancers. Heavy smokers and those who began smoking at a young age are at an increased risk of developing the disease. It is possible to significantly reduce the risk of lung cancer if you stop smoking.
  • Second-hand smoke: Even if you don't smoke, you may be at an increased risk for developing lung cancer if you are exposed to tobacco smoke.
  • Radon gas: A naturally occurring odorless gas, high levels of radon may be found in some houses or buildings. The EPA considers exposure to radon gas as the number one cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. Kits are available to test for radon in your home or office.
  • Asbestos: Long-term exposure to asbestos is linked to an increased risk of lung cancer. Miners, mill workers or people who may have breathed in asbestos fibers are at a greater risk of developing lung cancer.
  • Industrial or workplace exposures: Inhaling chemicals or minerals, such asbestos, arsenic, chromium, nickel, soot or tar may overtime increase a person's non-small cell lung cancer risks. Workers in certain manufacturing or mining industries may have an increased exposure to these chemicals. Diesel exhaust and air pollution may also be harmful.


A history of lung diseases, including previous lung cancers, may put you at a higher risk of developing the disease. There is also a risk associated with other cancer treatments, like radiation therapy.

Understanding risk factors

Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer. Not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer. If you think you may be at risk, you should discuss it with your doctor.

Advanced genomic testing

genomic tumor assessment

We use advanced genomic testing to examine a patient's tumor on a cellular level. This innovative tool can help us find what's driving the cancer's growth and offer patients more precise treatment.