Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) Risk Factors
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What Are the Risk Factors for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer?
Although any type of cancer originating in the lungs is generalized as a lung cancer, there are actually many different types of lung cancer. The most important distinction is based on the size of the cancer cell: small cell lung cancers (SCLC) are made up of small cells, and non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC) account for all the other types.
The classification of lung cancers is important because treatment options will depend on the type of lung cancer. For example, small cell lung cancers spread quickly and, consequently, by the time the cancer is diagnosed it is usually not possible to surgically remove the cancer.
The approach to treating non-small cell cancer, on the other hand, is different because these types of cancer develop and spread at a slower rate. The risk factors discussed here are for non-small cell lung cancers.
Close to 90 percent of all lung cancers are of the non-small cell variety. This category may be further sorted into three different subtypes: squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma and large-cell (undifferentiated) carcinoma. These subtypes can be differentiated by looking at the cells underneath a microscope. The prognosis (outlook) and treatment options may vary depending on the subtype.
Common Risk Factors for NSCLC
There are several factors that may increase of the likelihood of developing non-small cell lung cancer. In most cases, doctors are careful to distinguish a risk factor from the cause. That is, air pollution does not cause lung cancer, but it may be a factor to consider when assessing an individual's overall condition. However, there are some risk factors, like smoking, that are known to cause lung cancer.
Understanding risk factors of non-small cell lung cancer allows us to better manage certain aspects of our lifestyles to reduce our own risk for developing the disease. Generally speaking, however, having one or more risk factors does not mean you will get cancer.
Non-small cell lung cancer risk factors include:
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. The American Cancer Society reports that second-hand smoke exposure puts non-smokers living with smokers at as much as a 30 percent increased risk for lung cancer.
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. Prior to the government regulations in the 1980s, this naturally occurring fibrous material was made into many different products including ceiling tiles and insulation. 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. These chemicals are sometimes referred to as "carcinogens" because they are considered cancer-causing agents. Workers in certain manufacturing or mining industries may have an increased exposure to these chemicals. Diesel exhaust and air pollution may also be harmful.
Personal History - 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. And for unknown reasons, 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.
Smoking is a leading cause of lung cancer—and quitting smoking can reduce the risk of lung cancer. Talk to a health care professional about your non-small cell lung cancer risk factors and find out what you can do to manage your risk of developing the disease.
NOTE: 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.
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