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Lung Cancer Risk Factors

Lung cancer risk factors

Overall, the chance that a man will develop lung cancer in his lifetime is about 1 in 15; for a woman, the risk is about 1 in 17. For smokers the risk is much higher.

Several risk factors make a person more likely to develop lung cancer:

  • age (most people diagnosed with lung cancer are 65 or older; the average age of people when diagnosed is about 70)
  • cigarette smoking (nearly 90 percent of lung cancers are thought to be a result of smoking)
  • exposure to secondhand smoke (breathing in the smoke of others)
  • smoking marijuana cigarettes
  • recurring lung inflammation from conditions such as tuberculosis and some types of pneumonia
  • asbestos exposure
  • exposure to cancer-causing agents such as:
    • radioactive ores like uranium
    • arsenic
    • vinyl chloride
    • nickel chromates
    • coal products
    • mustard gas
    • chloromethyl ethers
    • fuels such as gasoline
    • diesel exhaust
  • exposure to radon, a radioactive gas produced by the natural breakdown of uranium
  • personal history of lung cancer
  • air pollution

While no increased risk of lung cancer has been found from the use of cosmetic talcum powder, some studies of talc miners and millers suggest a higher risk of lung cancer and other respiratory diseases from their exposure to industrial grade talc. Talcum powder is made from talc, a mineral that, in its natural form, may contain asbestos. Although, by law, all home-use talcum products (baby, body, and facial powders) have been asbestos-free.

Who is at the highest risk?

People at the highest risk for developing lung cancer meet the following criteria:

  • age 50 to 80
  • cigarette smoking history of at least 30 pack years (one pack-year = smoking one pack per day for one year; one pack = 20 cigarettes)
  • current cigarette smoker, or one who has quit smoking within the last 15 years

If you meet these criteria and are at high risk for lung cancer, talk to your doctor about getting a lung cancer screening.