Environmental Public Health Tracking: Lung Cancer Data

Cancer is a term used for diseases where abnormal cells divide without control and are able to invade other tissues. Cancer is not just one disease, but many diseases. There are more than 100 different types of cancer.

Lung cancer is one type of cancer.  Review the FAQs below for more information about lung cancer.

Access the lung cancer data

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What is lung cancer?

Lung cancer forms in the tissue of the lung, usually in the cells lining the air passages.  Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.

What are the risk factors for lung cancer?

  • Tobacco use.  Tobacco use is the leading cause of lung cancer.
  • Radon exposure.  Exposure to radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer.
  • Exposure to occupational substances.  The following substances have been classified as lung carcinogens¹:
    • Arsenic
    • Asbestos
    • Bis(chloromethyl) ether
    • Chromium
    • Nickel
    • Polycyclic aromatic compounds
    • Radon
    • Vinyl chloride
  • Medical history.  A history of certain lung diseases also increases the risk for lung cancer.
  • Poor diet.  Diets low in fruits and vegetables might increase the risk of lung cancer in persons who smoke.
  • Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS).  ETS is a recognized causal factor for lung cancer.  
  • Air pollution.  Air pollution may increase lung cancer risk slightly. The impact of outdoor air pollution on lung cancer needs further study.

1. International Agency for Research on Cancer

How is lung cancer related to the environment?

Smoking is the most common cause of lung cancer. Even for nonsmokers, exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke increases the risk for lung cancer. According to the 2006 Surgeon General's Report, the evidence suggests that secondhand smoke exposure can cause lung cancer in lifetime nonsmokers, regardless of where the exposure occurs (home, work, restaurants, etc.).

Studies also indicate that exposure to certain chemicals, such as arsenic, chromium, and silica, substances used or produced in foundries, and substances produced by processing coal may increase the risk for lung cancer, especially among smokers.

Another risk for lung cancer is exposure to radon gas. Radon can be found throughout the United States. It can infiltrate homes, offices, and schools and cause high indoor radon levels. The greatest exposure likely occurs in homes where most personal time is spent.

Is lung cancer preventable?

Avoiding tobacco is the most effective way to reduce the risk for lung cancer. Limiting exposure to secondhand smoke and testing homes for radon also reduce the risk for lung cancer. Increasing fresh fruit and vegetable consumption may also decrease risk, as well as help prevent other diseases.

Individuals who work in industries where exposures to the lung carcinogens are possible should be sure to follow health and safety rules, like wearing protective equipment.

Where can I learn more about lung cancer?

Last Revised: September 9, 2019