Lung Cancer and
Polar/Circumpolar Alaskan Natives
Causes of Lung Cancer
Researchers have discovered several factors that can cause lung cancer. The use of tobacco is the most important: About 90% of lung cancers are related to smoking. Harmful substances (carcinogens) in tobacco smoke damage the cells in the lungs. Over time, these damaged cells may develop into lung cancer.
The risk of developing lung cancer is related to how long a person has smoked and how many packs of cigarettes per day he or she smokes. A person who smokes one pack of cigarettes a day has 20 times the risk of developing lung cancer compared to a nonsmoker. Unfortunately, former smokers still are more likely to develop lung cancer than nonsmokers for many years after they quit smoking, and the risk never decreases to the low risk for a person who has never smoked. More than 50% of people newly diagnosed with lung cancer are former smokers who quit smoking more than a year before diagnosis.
A person living with a smoker has a 30% greater risk of developing lung cancer compared to a person living in a nonsmoking environment. Women appear to be more at risk from the chemicals in tobacco smoke that cause cancer. Therefore they may be at greater risk of developing lung cancer when they smoke or are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke.
Exposure to other harmful substances, such as, radioactive dust, and radon also increases the risk for lung cancer.
In the early stages of lung cancer, no symptoms may be present. As a result, only about 15% of lung cancers are diagnosed in the early stages when treatment is most effective.
Symptoms of more advanced lung cancer may include:
Some well-established risk factors are associated with lung cancer. Changing your lifestyle can, over time, gradually reduce some of your risk factors for developing lung cancer.
Studies show that tobacco use is the leading cause of lung cancer.
The most important prevention measure is to not use any tobacco. If you do use tobacco, you can reduce your risk for lung cancer by quitting. Your risk will gradually decrease over 10 to 15 years as your lungs recover. Former smokers will still have a higher risk of developing lung cancer than nonsmokers even years after quitting smoking. The benefit of quitting smoking is greater if it occurs at a young age.
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