Causes of Lung Cancer

Causes of Lung Cancer

Behind breast cancer, lung cancer is the most diagnosed cancer in the United States, with about 235,760 new cases of lung cancer reported in 2021. But, if cancer can originate from essentially anywhere in the body, why is lung cancer so prevalent?

Cancer that begins in the lungs is referred to as lung cancer and typically presents itself as either non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) or small cell lung cancer (SCLC). While a million questions may come to mind when you hear the words “lung cancer,” we’ve found one of the most frequently asked questions about lung cancer is related to the causes of cancer.

Smoking is the main culprit of lung cancer. Whether an individual smokes or used to smoke cigarettes, or has simply been exposed to harmful secondhand smoke, the impact on their lungs can lead to lung cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 90 percent of lung cancer deaths in the United States are attributed to smoking and secondhand smoke.

Although rare, lung cancer can occur in individuals who have never smoked tobacco or been exposed to secondhand smoke over a prolonged period. This makes identifying a cause more challenging, but experts have identified certain risk factors that may contribute to the development of lung cancer.

In addition to smoking, the American Lung Association has identified the following risk factors for lung cancer:

  • Radon gas exposure
  • Exposure to hazardous chemicals
  • Particle pollution (contaminates in the air we breathe)
  • Genes

Lung disease may also be a cause of lung cancer. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other pulmonary diseases weaken your respiratory system and have been linked to lung cancer in patients.

Types of Lung Cancer

The two main types of lung cancer are non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC). While there are other types, NSCLC accounts for 80-85 percent of lung cancers and SCLC makes up another 10-15 percent of reported cases.

The biggest difference between the two types is treatment. Depending on the case, a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, laser therapy and chemotherapy may be used to treat both NSCLC and SCLC. NSCLC treatments may also include photodynamic therapy (PDT), cryosurgery and electrocautery. Additional treatments are currently being tested and evaluated in clinical trials.

Can Lung Cancer spread?

Yes, lung cancer, like other cancers, can potentially metastasize or spread, that’s why it’s important to diagnose lung cancer as early as possible.

If you believe you’re at a high risk of developing lung cancer, speak with your primary care provider to discuss if you may be a good candidate for lung cancer screening.