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Lung cancer risk and prevention

The biggest risk factor for lung cancer is smoking cigarettes.

The habit causes around 90% of lung cancer cases. Other tobacco products are also a cancer risk, including cigars, pipe tobacco, smoking cannabis (with and without tobacco), snuff and chewing tobacco.

Tobacco smoke contains more than 60 toxic substances.

A smoker's secondhand smoke also increases the cancer risk for those around them through passive smoking.

Non-tobacco causes of lung cancer include radon gas coming up from the ground in parts of the UK, thought to be responsible for around 3% of lung cancer deaths in England.

Workers in some industries may be at a higher risk of lung cancer through exposure to chemicals and substances including arsenic, asbestos and coal.

Preventing lung cancer

If you smoke, quitting smoking is the main way to avoid lung cancer. It is never too late. Someone who gave up 10 years ago now has half the lung cancer risk of that of a smoker.

The NHS says there's evidence that following 5-a-day portions of fruits and vegetables advice along with a low-fat, high-fibre diet helps reduce the risk of lung cancer. Regular exercise also helps reduce the risk of developing lung cancer. NHS advice is for adults to at least do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise a week.

There are some myths around lung cancer risks:

Myth: Low-tar or 'light' cigarettes are safer than ordinary cigarettes

Fact: Light, ultra-light, and low-tar are just as dangerous as regular cigarettes. 

Myth: Talcum powder causes lung cancer

Fact: The International Agency for Research on Cancer says talc used on the genitals is a possible cancer-causing agent or carcinogen in women. However, talc has not been linked to lung cancer.

Myth: If diagnosed with lung cancer, quitting is pointless

Fact: Continued smoking decreases the effectiveness of cancer treatment and may make side-effects worse. Smokers undergoing an operation, for example, have more trouble healing than ex-smokers. Those who smoke while undergoing radiotherapy for cancer of the larynx are less likely to regain normal voice quality. In some cases, quitting can reduce the risk of a second cancer forming.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on September 27, 2016

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