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Understanding Lung Cancer Risk Factors: What You Need to Know

May 3, 2021

Lung Cancer is an abnormal growth of the tissues in the windpipe, main airway or lungs. It is one of the world’s commonest cancers. In this article, we share lung cancer risks and symptoms. Smoking is the biggest risk, but don’t be fooled; there are other factors that can contribute. Learn more …

Lung Cancer Symptoms

How Common is Lung Cancer?

Here are a few recent stats (2020):

  • 3rd most Common Cancer in the UK
  • 3rd most common cancer in Men – Nigeria
  • Kills more people in the US than Breast and Colorectal Cancer – together.

Around the world, we estimate that 19.3 million new cancer cases happened in 2020.

In that same year, there were almost 10.0 million cancer deaths.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a large percentage of these deaths occur in countries with weak healthcare systems around the world (using the GLOBOCAN 2020 estimates of cancer incidence and mortality).

The burden is greatest in such countries, which also struggle with infectious diseases and have poor systems to cope with cancer care – screening and monitoring).

Informing people about the symptoms to look for and how they could be at risk can help with early diagnosis rather than detecting the condition at very late stages when little can be done to save life.

Lung Cancer risks

Symptoms Of Lung Cancer

The Most Common Lung Cancer Symptoms are:

Having a cough most of the time

If there is a change in a cough you have had for a long time – it may sound different or be painful when you cough

Becoming out of breath doing the things you used to do without a problem

Coughing up phlegm (sputum) with blood in it

An ache or pain in the chest or shoulder

Chest infections that keep coming back or a chest infection that doesn’t get better

Losing your appetite, feeling tired all the time (fatigue) or losing weight

Therefore, developing any of these symptoms should prompt you to seek medical attention urgently for tests.

Lung Cancer risks

What You Should Know – Lung Cancer Risks


•Smoking tobacco is the biggest cause of lung cancer in most parts of the world

•Both smokers and breathing in other people’s cigarette smoke.

•Even light or occasional smoking increases the risk of lung cancer.

•But your risk increases more the longer you smoke and the more you smoke. The sooner you stop, the better.

Your Environment – Work Exposure

Some substances increase the risk of lung cancer.

These include asbestos, silica, and diesel exhaust. People can be exposed to these through their work.

Asbestos was used in shipbuilding and the construction industry in the 1960s.

Although these substances are banned in many countries, they can still pose a risk in older buildings. Therefore they come under very tight regulation in countries like the UK.

In other countries, regulation is poor, so there is still a great risk of illness from Asbestos exposure that people may be ignorant about. 

There are strict laws about work that involves asbestos: for example when working in or repairing structures containing asbestos.

Smoking increases the risk of disease from asbestos exposure.

Silica is a substance used in some construction and material industries, such as glass-making and bricklaying.

People who have worked as bricklayers can have a slightly increased risk of lung cancer. It can cause a condition known as silicosis, which increases the risk of lung cancer.

Diesel engine exhaust fume exposure increases the risk of lung cancer. So, people who are regularly exposed to exhaust fumes through their jobs have a higher risk of developing lung cancer. 

This includes professional drivers and mechanics. •Regular workplace safety assessments,  Protective clothing like face masks, gloves, and other protective gear.

Air Pollution

Air Pollution (Lower lung cancer risk than Smoking)

Outdoor Air Pollution – Outdoor air pollution is a mixture of tiny dust-like particles and substances in the air. It can be man-made, such as fumes from vehicles or factories, vehicle tyres and brake wear and smoke from burning fuels like wood or coal.  But it can also include natural substances, like wind-blown dust.

Indoor Air Pollution – We create air pollution indoors from the burning of solid fuels to heat homes and to cook with.

Second-hand smoke from cigarettes (passive smoking) falls under this category.

Most exposure to second-hand smoke happens in the home and is particularly dangerous for children.

If you are a smoker, smoking outside, well away from the home, can help reduce exposure for others.

And stopping smoking will have benefits for both your health and others.

Lung Cancer

Lung Cancer or Covid-19

Lung Cancer and COVID-19: In the last 12 months, we are seeing new issues around the presence of Covid-19 and Lung cancer.

The biggest concern involves missing a lung cancer diagnosis as the symptoms may also be the same with long Covid syndrome.

Examples include cough/shortness of breath, persistent tiredness or weakness and so on.

They will need careful checking to establish their cause is one condition and not the other.

Summing Up

These are the main takeaways:

The older you are, the greater the risk of Cancer on average.

However, your genes, habits like smoking and exposures to the environment (including your work) can put you at risk well before old age.

  • Physical activity,
  • Healthy eating,
  • Cutting smoking
  • Moderate alcohol consumption, are measures that can help reduce the risk of cancer but knowing more about the symptoms and whether you could be at risk also helps.

In some centres where it is available, low-dose CT scan screening can help with early diagnosis.

This type of screening involves arranging for people who are not yet ill to have regular tests to examine for early symptoms of Lung cancer.

Doctors identify people aged 50-80 years who have smoked 1 pack/day for 20 years or stopped smoking within the last 15 years as suitable candidates for CT scan screening.

Let us know in the comments section below if you have any questions on this topic and living better to reduce your risks.

More Reading:


Editing by AskAwayHealth Team


All AskAwayHealth articles are written by practising  Medical Practitioners on a wide range of healthcare conditions to provide evidence-based guidance and to help promote quality healthcare. 

The advice in our material is not meant to replace the management of your specific condition by a qualified healthcare practitioner.
To discuss your condition, please contact a health practitioner or reach us directly

Image Credits: Canva

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