The leading causes of lung cancer relate mostly to tobacco products, toxic chemicals, genetic factors, and other harmful substances that people are regularly exposed to. Mesothelioma, a particular type of lung cancer associated with asbestos, will also be explained in this article.
1. Tobacco Products
One of the leading causes of lung cancer is tobacco smoke. The risk of developing lung cancer is highest for cigarette smokers. Approximately 80 to 90% of lung cancer cases are caused by cigarettes.
Other tobacco products do not carry as high of a risk as smoking cigarettes; however, they still do pose a significant threat to your health. For example, cigars, pipe tobacco, and chewing tobacco are all increase the possibility of developing cancer. People who smoke or consume these tobacco products habitually are at the highest risk.
People are also at risk if they are inhaling second-hand smoke on a constant basis or if they live with someone who smokes tobacco products. Even if you don’t smoke, you are still increasing your chances of getting lung cancer by nearly 24% if you expose yourself frequently to secondhand smoke.
While the large majority of lung cancer cases are caused by tobacco products, people can also develop lung cancer for other reasons unassociated with tobacco.
Let’s explore what these other causes are in more detail.
Being exposed to carcinogenic chemicals at home and at the workplace can lead to lung cancer. The major culprits in these areas are radon gas, arsenic, and asbestos.
2. Radon Gas
When uranium under the foundation of our house breaks down, it converts to radon gas which can seep through the cracks and pollute the rooms in the house. The gas can sometimes come up through the plumbing. It then can enter the house through sink drains and other outlets.
Radon is odorless and invisible, so it is difficult to detect. To determine if you have radon in your house, you should have a professional test to see if your house is exposed to high levels of the hidden insidious gas.
Although arsenic is not as prevalent in North America or Europe, people who drink unfiltered tap water in other areas of the world could possibly expose themselves to high levels to the dangerous chemical.
Studies have shown that people who consume water containing arsenic are at higher risk of lung cancer than people who drink filtered or purified water. This seems to be more of a problem in South America or Southeast Asia where the public water systems have not been regulated as heavily by government health departments.
Asbestos was a common compound found in insulation materials for houses, buildings, and other structures. It still exists in some buildings in the world today; however, most countries have banned the harmful fibrous material from new construction projects.
Asbestos was also used commonly an effective fire retardant. Because of this, it was commonly applied to anything in a house or building’s construction to prevent fires and make the structure more energy-efficient. For instance, bricks, concrete, pipes, floors, ceilings, and roofing can all have traces of asbestos if they haven’t been updated to modern day construction regulations.
Therefore, despite its well-documented danger, asbestos still poses a serious threat to our health since many of the products and structures that contain the toxic compound remain in circulation.
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If a workplace has not been inspected for asbestos and people have worked in the same building for a long period, then they could be at risk. The same holds true for houses and apartments. If it is an older building that doesn’t reach appropriate health and safety standards, then it can be of serious concern for tenants.
How does asbestos cause mesothelioma?
Asbestos can cause a specific form of lung cancer called Mesothelioma. When small fibers of asbestos come off the building materials, they can enter our body through the air. We inhale the toxic substance and it enters our lungs. Over time, repeated exposure to these microscopic asbestos fibers, in areas that we either live or work, can lead to the development of cancerous tumors within the lungs.
How do the cancerous tumors develop?
Cells of the “mesothelial lining” within the lung absorb the tiny asbestos fibers which can interfere with the natural cell division process. This disruption in cell reproduction can lead to the formation of tumors. Furthermore, the toxic fibers can also cause inflammation within the cells. This could cause tumors to develop more rapidly or mutate the healthy cells into cancerous cells.
Asbestos in Talcum Powder
Some talcum powders may also contain traces of asbestos.
Talcum powder is a substance often used in bathroom products for our body and face. Some baby products contain the powder as well. It is typically used because it absorbs moisture, keeps the body dry, promotes smoother skin, and prevents rashes.
Many governments have made laws to ensure that talcum powder products are free of asbestos. However, despite these safety regulations, it does raise some concern for some people.
“Talc” is a mineral in these powders which, in its unrefined natural form, can contain small quantities of asbestos. Studies have shown that people who have been exposed to industrial grade talc suffer from higher rates of lung cancer and mesothelioma.
5. Air Pollution
Another leading cause of lung cancer is air pollution. Most air pollution comes from industrial factories, vehicles, power plants, and other producers of toxic chemicals. For the majority of countries in the world, these outdoor toxins are minimal compared to the risks involved with smoking and indoor chemical exposures.
However, polluted air that we are exposed to outdoors still leads to approximately 5% of all lung cancer cases for men and 3% for women. Of course, these incidences would be much higher in countries like China or India where the outdoor air quality is much worse. In fact, in countries where the pollution levels are severe, the risks of developing lung cancer are equivalent to the cancer rates of passive smokers in countries with cleaner air.
Knowing this, heavy smokers who live in highly polluted countries are at the highest risk of lung cancer in the world.
6. Genetics, Low Immunity, and Previous Lung Disease
Lung cancer is more likely to occur in people who have a family history of the disease.
The rates are particularly high for smokers who have had parents or relatives develop lung cancer. Research shows that genetics definitely play a significant role. Thus, smokers should be especially cautious if they have a family history of lung cancer.
Other people at risk are those with lower immunities or those who have suffered from a previous lung disease. People who have undergone successful treatment of lung cancer are still at a high risk of developing cancerous tumors later on when compared to the rest of the population. Other lung diseases like tuberculosis, emphysema, and bronchitis can increase people’s risk of lung cancer as well.
7. Other Possible Causes of Lung Cancer
Lastly, there are other correlations with lung cancer which still require more research to prove causation.
Some studies suggest lung cancer is linked to excessive use of marijuana, alcohol, and beta carotene supplements. There is also research which highlights that exposure to coal smoke, wood smoke, diesel fumes, and other pollutants can increase people’s risks of getting the disease.
For more information about the leading causes of lung cancer and mesothelioma, consult a professional health practitioner or a physician.
"Causes of Lung Cancer." NHS, http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Cancer-of-the-lung/Pages/Causes.aspx.
"Causes Of Lung Cancer." WebMD, http://www.webmd.com/lung-cancer/lung-cancer-causes.
"Causes of Mesothelioma." Mesothelioma Group, https://www.mesotheliomagroup.com/mesothelioma/causes/.
"Lung Cancer Risk Factors." American Cancer Society, https://www.cancer.org/cancer/lung-cancer/prevention-and-early-detection/risk-factors.html.
"Risks and Causes." Cancer Research UK, http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/lung-cancer/risks-causes.
Stoppler, Melissa Conrad. "5 Causes Of Lung Cancer In Non-Smokers." MedicineNet, http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=53012.
"What are the Leading Causes of Lung Cancer?." Very Well, https://www.verywell.com/what-are-the-leading-causes-of-lung-cancer-2248984.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Rita on August 21, 2017:
I was not really having a problem breathing at first. My throat was burning; I thought I had strep throat. I had pain in my neck, and there was swelling around my collar bone. The first doctor I went to said he did not know why there was swelling. He gave me antibiotics and told me that if the swelling was not better to come back in two weeks. I went back in two weeks and he said he did not know what was wrong. Since I do not have insurance, I went to a hospital emergency room, and they said I have COPD.The disease does not improve. My "good days" are far and few these days. My dad and his dad died from this. I am only writing this to inform others that nothing was really working to help my condition.I started on COPD herbal formula i ordered from Health Herbal Clinic,i read reviews from other previous patients who used the herbal formula, my symptoms totally declined over a 5 weeks use of the COPD natural herbal formula. i am now doing very well, my lungs are totally repaired!! Visit there website
Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on August 14, 2017:
Unfortunately I smoke, so I really should try and give up. I didn't know that asbestos can be found in some talcum powders. That is a surprise!