Lung Cancer: Risk Factors and Prevention


What Is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the lungs. It occurs when cells in the lungs grow and divide uncontrollably, leading to the formation of a tumour. These cancerous cells can invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or lymphatic system, a process known as metastasis.

There are two main types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC). NSCLC is the most common type, accounting for about 85% of all lung cancer cases. SCLC is less common but tends to grow and spread more quickly.

The primary cause of lung cancer is cigarette smoking, which is responsible for most cases. However, non-smokers can also develop lung cancer, and exposure to second-hand smoke, air pollution, radon gas, asbestos, and certain genetic factors can increase the risk.

Lung cancer may not cause noticeable symptoms in the early stages. As the disease progresses, symptoms can include persistent cough, chest pain, wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing up blood, fatigue, weight loss, and recurrent respiratory infections.

Early detection and treatment are crucial for improving outcomes in lung cancer. Diagnosis typically involves imaging tests (such as chest X-rays or CT scans) and the analysis of tissue samples obtained through procedures like bronchoscopy or biopsy. Treatment options depend on the type and stage of lung cancer but may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, or a combination of these approaches.

Prevention of lung cancer primarily involves avoiding tobacco smoke, both active and passive, and minimizing exposure to other known risk factors. Additionally, screening programs may be recommended for individuals at high risk, such as long-term smokers, to detect lung cancer at an early, more treatable stage.

Detecting Lung Cancer

Detecting lung cancer typically involves a combination of medical imaging, diagnostic tests, and evaluations. Here are some common methods used for lung cancer detection:

1) Imaging Tests

It consist of

  • Chest X-Ray: It is often the first imaging test used to identify abnormalities in the lungs. However, it may not detect small tumours.
  • Computed Tomography (CT) Scan: This imaging technique provides detailed cross-sectional images of the chest, allowing doctors to visualize tumours more clearly.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): In certain cases, an MRI may be used to provide additional information about the size and location of a lung tumour.

2) Sputum Cytology

This test examines mucus coughed up from the lungs to check for the presence of cancer cells. However, it is not always reliable, as it may miss cancer cells, especially in the early stages.

3) Biopsy

A biopsy involves taking a tissue sample from the suspected area to analyse it for the presence of cancer cells. There are different types of biopsies:

  • Needle Biopsy: A thin needle is inserted into the lung tissue to obtain a small sample.
  • Bronchoscopy: A flexible tube with a camera is inserted through the nose or mouth into the lungs to collect tissue samples.
  • Thoracentesis: If there is fluid around the lungs, a needle is used to remove the fluid for analysis.
  • Surgical Biopsy: In some cases, a surgeon may need to perform a surgical procedure to directly remove a tissue sample for examination.

4) Molecular Testing

Certain genetic mutations and alterations can be identified through molecular testing, such as testing for epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mutations or anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) rearrangements. These tests help determine the most appropriate treatment options.

It’s important to remember that only medical professionals can diagnose lung cancer accurately. If you have concerns or suspect any symptoms related to lung cancer, it is crucial to consult with a healthcare provider who can guide you through the appropriate diagnostic process.

Family History and Genes

Yes, lung cancer can be related to both family history and genes. While the primary risk factor for lung cancer is smoking, there is evidence to suggest that genetics and family history also play a role in the development of the disease.

Family History: Individuals with a family history of lung cancer have a higher risk of developing the disease themselves. This increased risk may be due to shared environmental factors, such as exposure to second-hand smoke, or shared genetic factors.

Genetic Factors: Certain genetic mutations and variations have been associated with an increased risk of developing lung cancer. For example, mutations in genes such as EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor), ALK (anaplastic lymphoma kinase), and ROS1 (c-ros oncogene 1) are known to increase the risk of developing certain types of lung cancer. These genetic mutations can be inherited from parents or arise spontaneously.

It’s important to note that while genetic factors and family history can contribute to the development of lung cancer, they do not guarantee that an individual will develop the disease. Many people with a family history of lung cancer or genetic predisposition never develop the disease, while others without these risk factors may still develop lung cancer due to other causes, such as exposure to environmental carcinogens like tobacco smoke.

If you have concerns about your risk of developing lung cancer based on your family history or genetic factors, it’s advisable to consult with a healthcare professional who can provide personalized guidance and recommend appropriate screening or preventive measures.

Can Lung Cancer Be Related to Age and Gender?

Yes, lung cancer is indeed related to age and gender. Several factors, including age and gender, can influence the development and prevalence of lung cancer.

  • Age: Lung cancer is primarily a disease of older individuals. The risk of developing lung cancer increases with age, and most cases are diagnosed in people over the age of 65. This can be attributed to cumulative exposure to risk factors such as smoking and environmental pollutants over time. However, it’s important to note that lung cancer can occur at any age, including in younger individuals, especially in cases where there is a genetic predisposition or exposure to other risk factors.
  • Gender: Gender plays a role in the incidence and types of lung cancer. Historically, lung cancer has been more common among men than women, largely due to higher smoking rates among men in the past. However, as smoking patterns have shifted, the gap has narrowed. In recent years, the incidence of lung cancer among women has been increasing. Moreover, women tend to be more susceptible to certain subtypes of lung cancer, such as adenocarcinoma.

It’s important to note that while age and gender are significant factors, they are not the sole determinants of lung cancer. Other crucial risk factors include smoking (the most significant risk factor), exposure to second-hand smoke, exposure to environmental pollutants (such as radon gas, asbestos, and certain chemicals), a family history of lung cancer, and underlying genetic factors.

Lifestyle Risk Factors Related to Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is a complex disease influenced by various factors, including both genetic and environmental factors. While genetics plays a role in determining individual susceptibility, lifestyle choices and environmental exposures are known to significantly contribute to the development of lung cancer. Here are some lifestyle risk factors associated with lung cancer:

  • Smoking: Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. It is estimated that smoking accounts for approximately 85% of all lung cancer cases. The risk increases with the number of cigarettes smoked per day and the duration of smoking. Additionally, exposure to second-hand smoke can also increase the risk of developing lung cancer.
  • Radon Gas: Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can seep into buildings from the ground. Prolonged exposure to high levels of radon increases the risk of lung cancer. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking and is responsible for a significant number of lung cancer cases among non-smokers.
  • Occupational Exposures: Certain occupational exposures to carcinogens are associated with an increased risk of lung cancer. Examples include exposure to asbestos, arsenic, chromium, nickel, coal products, diesel exhaust, and some chemicals used in the mining, construction, and manufacturing industries.
  • Air Pollution: Long-term exposure to outdoor air pollution, particularly fine particulate matter (PM2.5), has been linked to an increased risk of lung cancer. This risk is higher in areas with high levels of pollution, such as densely populated cities or regions near industrial facilities.
  • Family History and Genetics: A family history of lung cancer may increase the risk, indicating a genetic predisposition to the disease. Certain genetic variations can make individuals more susceptible to the harmful effects of tobacco smoke or other environmental carcinogens.
  • Personal History of Lung Disease: Individuals with a history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), tuberculosis, or certain other lung diseases have a higher risk of developing lung cancer.

It is important to note that while lifestyle risk factors play a significant role in lung cancer development, there are also cases where individuals without any known risk factors develop the disease. It is always advisable to consult with healthcare professionals for personalized advice and regular screenings, particularly for those at higher risk due to lifestyle or genetic factors.

Health Status and Previous Treatments

Certain health conditions and treatments can affect your risk of lung cancer, including:

  • Previous lung disease conditions such as tuberculosis (TB) can cause scarring of lung tissue, which can increase the risk of lung cancer.
  • HIV infection people with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are three times more likely to develop lung cancer. Experts believe this link is because HIV weakens a person’s immune system and reduces the body’s ability to fight infection, which could lead to cancer.
  • Radiation to the chest can increase the risk of lung cancer. People being treated for Hodgkin’s disease or breast cancer sometimes undergo this therapy.

Ways to Prevent Lung Cancer

Preventing lung cancer involves adopting a combination of lifestyle changes and avoiding exposure to risk factors. Here are some important ways to reduce the risk of developing lung cancer:

  • Stop Smoking: The most effective way to prevent lung cancer is to quit smoking or never start smoking in the first place. Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, responsible for approximately 85% of cases. It’s never too late to quit, and the sooner you stop smoking, the greater the benefits to your health.
  • Avoid Second-hand Smoke: Limit your exposure to second-hand smoke from other people’s cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. Encourage smokers to smoke outside the house and avoid enclosed spaces where smoking is allowed.
  • Protect Yourself from Occupational Hazards: If you work in an environment with potential lung carcinogens such as asbestos, radon, arsenic, diesel exhaust, or certain chemicals, follow all safety guidelines and use protective equipment provided by your employer.
  • Test Your Home for Radon: Radon is a colourless, odourless gas that can accumulate in homes and increase the risk of lung cancer. You can purchase a radon testing kit to check the radon levels in your home. If high levels are detected, take steps to reduce the radon concentration.
  • Maintain A Healthy Diet: Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These foods contain antioxidants and other compounds that may help reduce the risk of lung cancer.
  • Exercise Regularly: Engaging in regular physical activity can help reduce the risk of various types of cancer, including lung cancer. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week.
  • Protect Against Outdoor Air Pollution: Limit your exposure to outdoor air pollution as much as possible. If air quality is poor, stay indoors, especially during peak pollution times. Use air purifiers and keep windows closed when outdoor air quality is compromised.
  • Be Cautious with Carcinogens: Minimize your exposure to known carcinogens such as asbestos, arsenic, diesel exhaust, and other toxic substances. Follow safety guidelines if you work in an industry that involves these substances.
  • Get Vaccinated: Vaccination against the human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B virus (HBV) can help reduce the risk of certain types of lung cancer associated with these infections.
  • Regular Check-Ups and Screenings: If you are at high risk for lung cancer due to factors such as a history of smoking or exposure to carcinogens, talk to your doctor about lung cancer screening options such as low dose computed tomography (LDCT). Early detection can significantly improve treatment outcomes.

Remember, although these preventive measures can reduce the risk of developing lung cancer, they do not guarantee complete protection. If you have concerns about lung cancer or any other health condition, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice and guidance.


Saravavan Nadarajan (Vanan)

Vanan, fitness expert and leader at EzFit Singapore, specializes in holistic training—home-based, boot camps, and corporate fitness—with over a decade of industry experience.

You might also like