What Are Risk Factors for Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer tumors can develop when normal cells in the body lose control and begin growing excessively. Risk factors for disease involve things that may raise the chances of developing these tumors but do not directly cause it. For instance, being exposed to a toxic substance on a job site could increase a person’s chances of developing the disease. In that situation, their occupation would be considered a risk factor.

Risk factors are separate from cancer causes, which differ in that they directly correlate to the development of tumors caused by certain carcinogens. Asbestos, for example, is a harmful carcinogen that has been known to cause lung cancer when a person is exposed to its toxic fibers for a prolonged time.

Get the Help You Need


Many different things increase a person’s risk of developing the disease. While some things can be avoided, others cannot or may not even be commonly known.

Uncommon Risk Factors for Lung Cancer

It is possible for a person to be exposed to a toxic substance that they didn’t even know about. Many times, in these situations, the pollutant was not supposed to be there, but the person in charge didn’t fulfill their obligations in removing it. At times, this has resulted in the wrongful death of some people after exposure at home, work, or school. Some risk factors you may not know about include:

This is an icon displaying what asbestos looks like in a home.

Asbestos Exposure

A group of six naturally occurring minerals, asbestos was once used in many different commercial and construction capacities due to its fire-resistant properties. This makes building built before the 1980s and even new job sites risk factors for exposure. Additionally, frequenting old schools, homes, mines, mills, steel factories, and other industrial locations can increase your chance of exposure if the fibers are disturbed – as they are during construction, demolition, and renovation projects.

Some high-risk jobs include:

  • Pipefitters and plumbers
  • Shipyard workers
  • Industrial workers
  • Manufacturing workers
  • Chemical and refinery workers
  • Construction workers

This is an icon displaying what radon looks like near a home.

Radon Exposure

The breakdown of uranium in soil and rocks causes the release of radon, a natural, radioactive gas. Outdoors, the chance of being exposed to a harmful amount of radon is low, but the risk factor increases when radon is confined in a more concentrated environment. Homes and other buildings in most parts of the United States have been known to have high indoor radon levels, especially in basements.

Breathing radon inside exposes the lungs to small amounts of radiation, significantly increasing the chance of damaging cells in the lungs and causing them to develop into tumors.

This is an image of a workplace site demonstrating that carcinogens can be a risk in onsite.

Carcinogens in the Workplace

There are several other carcinogens found in workplaces that have been known to increase the risk of lung cancer. Those agents consist of:

  • Uranium and other radioactive ores
  • Inhaled chemicals such as arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, silica, vinyl chloride, nickel compounds, chromium compounds, coal products, mustard gas, and chloromethyl ethers
  • Diesel exhaust

Sometimes the owner or person in charge of building and managing a contaminated structure doesn’t adequately remove the asbestos, radon, or other harmful substance from said structure. In this case, they could be charged with corporate negligence, as there are many regulations put in place to protect employees and residents from this type of exposure to carcinogens or other pollutants.

In cases of corporate negligence, plaintiffs are typically entitled to financial compensation for their medical bills and hardship.

Behaviors to Change

Knowingly ingesting carcinogens is very dangerous. Avoid engaging in these activities to keep your body healthier and further lower your chance of developing lung cancer and other related illnesses. Some high-risk factors for lung cancer that can be avoided are:

This is an icon demonstrating tap water.


Smoking cigarettes is a known cause of lung cancer. Specifically, most smokers develop small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and it is extremely rare for a non-smoker to develop SCLC. With non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), the cause can be a number of other sources in addition to cigarettes.

Too, secondhand smoke can be just as dangerous as first-hand exposure. If someone is often in the presence of a person who smokes, even though they don’t smoke themselves, they increase their chances of developing a smoking-related disease.

This is an image of dietary supplements

Taking Dietary Supplements

Two significant studies discovered that smokers who took beta carotene supplements had an increased chance of developing lung cancer. Another recent study demonstrated that consumption of too much calcium from supplements (over 1,000 milligrams daily) can increase the risk of developing cancer.

Additionally, if you are not vitamin D deficient, taking vitamin D supplements could put you at a higher risk for developing cancer as well.

Generally, vitamins are more beneficial when obtained from food rather than consumed through supplements, the study suggests.

This is an icon demonstrating tap water

Drinking Tap Water in Certain Parts of the World

Areas of the world like Southeast Asia and South America have dangerous levels of arsenic in public-use water, which has been known to contribute to lung cancer diagnoses if ingested.

Unavoidable Risk Factors for Lung Cancer

Certain environments or situations can increase your chances of developing lung cancer through no fault of your own or the individual next to you. Some of those factors are:

This is an icon demonstrating an example of Hazardous Air Pollution (HAP).

Air Pollution

In many cities around the world, air pollution has been known to raise the risk of lung cancer a small amount. Researchers estimate that air pollution accounts for 5 percent of lung cancer deaths worldwide.

This is an image of family history.

Family History of Lung Cancer

If you have had lung cancer before, you could be at a higher risk of getting it, or another type of cancer, again. This is formally known as a recurrence. If the new tumors are unrelated to the previous growths, it is called “second cancer.” Subsequently, those affected with lung cancer are susceptible to developing another type of cancer due to the damage to cell DNA. Many types of cancer can also be passed down genetically through families. As such, if anyone in your immediate family has ever had cancer, you may have a larger chance of developing the disease.

Symptoms of Lung Cancer

Lung cancer symptoms can be mistaken for symptoms from other lung illnesses. Depending on the patient and stage of cancer, symptoms may be less or more severe. SCLC and NSCLC symptoms tend to be similar, too.

This is an icon that represents the early symptoms caused by lung cancer.

Early Symptoms

  • Continuous fatigue
  • Decreased appetite
  • Excessive pain in the chest, back, or shoulders that worsens when coughing, laughing, or breathing
  • Lung infections such as bronchitis that keep coming back
  • New, chronic cough that worsens, or negative change in an existing cough (i.e. blood)
  • Sudden shortness of breath during everyday activities
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Wheezing and hoarseness

This is an icon that represents the advanced symptoms caused by lung cancer.

Advanced Symptoms

  • Bone pain
  • Chronic headaches and dizziness
  • Jaundice
  • Growth in neck or collarbone area
  • Swelling of the face, arms, or neck
  • Weak or numb limbs

Please see a doctor immediately if you exhibit any of the above symptoms.

Screening and Diagnosis

Think you’ve been exposed to a toxic substance over time that may have caused you to develop lung cancer? Even if you’re unsure, it is vital to get to contact a doctor for a screening as soon as possible. The earlier any kind of illness is detected, whether it be lung cancer or something else, the easier it is to diagnose and treat.

This is an icon representing the benefits of getting an early screening.

Early Screening

A medical screening is what a doctor might recommend if the patient is concerned about illness when there are little to no symptoms. Screening is essential for catching and treating the development of disease early enough in those patients who are at high-risk for developing lung cancer.

Some early screening tests used for detecting lung cancer can include chest x-rays and low-dose CAT scans (LDCT). LDCTs are good at finding abnormal areas in the lungs and have positive early-detection success rates compared to chest x-rays.

This is an icon representing a diagnosis form.


If there’s a screening that is showing lung cancer or the potential of it, your doctor will want to make an official diagnosis. A diagnosis is an official medical statement pronouncing what illness you have and their recommended next steps for treating the illness.

In a lot of legal cases for diseases that have been caused by corporate negligence, the statute of limitations (or, time the patient has to file a legal claim) begins the day the patient receives an official diagnosis.

Next Steps

The details of how a patient develops lung cancer are extremely important. If the patient didn’t smoke cigarettes, it is possible that the cause of the disease was exposure to a hazardous substance. In this case, an investigation into how the pollutant came into contact with the patient can begin.

If exposure was through the fault of a specific individual or organization, they might be held responsible, and the patient could be entitled to compensation from said party for corporate negligence. Options can include filing for workers’ compensation,  personal injury, or an asbestos trust fund from the negligent company responsible for the exposure.

Diagnosed with lung cancer? Consider the treatment and legal options available. Have a detailed discussion with your doctor about your diagnosis and what could have caused it.