Anyone can be diagnosed with lung cancer. It doesn’t discriminate. However, there are several risk factors that may increase the chances of getting lung cancer. Some of these factors are age, genetic history, certain workplaces, and exposure to specific chemicals.
Environmental Risk Factors
Naturally occurring elements or materials used in the construction of older buildings are known to increase the risk of getting lung cancer. These include:
- Asbestos is a heat-resistant mineral that was used as insulation in older buildings
- If asbestos is not disturbed, it usually does not pose a risk
- People working in asbestos mines or industries that use asbestos are at the most risk for lung cancer
- It usually takes more than 15 years for lung cancer to develop after exposure to asbestos
- Radon is a colorless and odorless radioactive gas. It forms when radioactive elements naturally break down
- Radon can be found indoors and outdoors, but is usually found at higher levels indoors
- Most exposure to radon occurs in homes, schools, and office buildings
- Radon levels in homes can be tested to ensure they are not too high
- People who work underground, such as in mines, are at a greater risk to radon exposure
- Uranium is a naturally occurring radioactive metal. Some rocks, soil, water, and even air can contain small amounts
- Uranium is used in nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons. Small amounts can be found in ceramic glazes, light bulbs, photographic chemicals, and other household products
- We are exposed to small amounts of uranium in our everyday lives. People can come into contact with larger amounts of uranium by working at nuclear power plants, weapon production facilities, or uranium mines and mills.
People who work in places with environmental risk factors or who are often exposed to these elements may be at a higher risk for lung cancer. Breathing certain other chemicals or compounds found in these workplaces for a long period of time may also increase the risk of lung cancer. These include arsenic, coal products, and vinyl chloride. Also, overexposure to diesel exhaust is a known cause of lung cancer.
Fortunately, there have been updated regulations and policies to protect workers and improve safety in the workplace.
Although there are numerous factors that can lead to lung cancer, being a smoker can also put you at risk. Over time, smoking can damage the cells in the lungs and begin to change the lung tissue, and possibly cause lung cancer to develop.
Quitting smoking can be extremely difficult, physically and emotionally. But it’s important to remember that no matter when you decide to quit, it can make a difference.
If you or your loved one has a history of smoking, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about different strategies that can help you try to quit.
Should You Get Checked for Lung Cancer?
If you feel that you are at a higher risk for developing lung cancer, it's a good idea to have routine check-ups with your doctor. At one of these check-ups, your doctor may screen you for lung cancer based on your level of risk. Talk with your doctor about any signs or symptoms you may be feeling so he or she can determine if screening is appropriate for you.