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Am I at Risk for Lung Cancer?


Updated April 15, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Am I at Risk for Lung Cancer?

Question: Am I at Risk for Lung Cancer?

I smoked for 20 years and quit smoking 6 months ago. What are the chances I'll get lung cancer in the future?

Answer: According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer claims more lives than colon, breast and prostate cancers combined every year in the United States.   And, with approximately 80 percent of cases being attributable to cigarette (including "light" cigarettes), cigar and pipe smoking, the threat of lung cancer is a common fear among smokers and ex-smokers as well.

Risk factors for lung cancer:

The age you were when you started, how long and how much you smoked factor into a person's risk assessment.

Secondhand Smoke
Exposure to secondhand smoke increases lung cancer risk, whether you're a smoker or not.  Secondhand smoke is thought to cause upwards of 3,000 deaths in the U.S. annually.

A radioactive gas that is a result of uranium in soil and rocks breaking down, radon gas can be a risk when it builds up inside homes.  Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, and the leading cause for non-smokers.

Other Substances:

Exposure to these substances can increase lung cancer risk.

Family History
If you've had lung cancer before, you are at an increased risk for a recurrence. If family members have had lung cancer, your risk may be slightly increased.

Radiation Therapy to the Chest
Cancer patients who receive radiation therapy in the chest area have an increased risk of lung cancer.

Having one or more risk factors does not mean you'll get lung cancer.

If you are a former smoker, the chance you'll contract lung cancer may be higher than that of someone who has never smoked, but by quitting, you've done the best thing possible to improve your odds. Statistics tell us that the risk of developing lung cancer for current smokers is 20 times that of nonsmokers. As a former smoker, your risk drops more with every smoke free year you complete.

Take a look at After the Last Cigarette to get a view into how your body begins to heal when you quit smoking.

While none of us can know what the future will bring, it's important not to let worry destroy the quality of life we have today.

If you've recently quit and you're concerned about what the years of smoking have done to your lungs, consider this: by quitting, you've lowered your risk of getting a wide variety of smoking-related illnesses, including lung cancer.

With every smoke free day you complete, you're helping your body to recover and halt further damage. For many people, smoke-free days turn into years of robust health and improved longevity.


National Cancer Institute. Lung Cancer Prevention. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/prevention/lung/HealthProfessional/page1. Accessed March 2014.

American Cancer Society. What are the Key Statistics about Lung Cancer? http://www.cancer.org/cancer/lungcancer-non-smallcell/detailedguide/non-small-cell-lung-cancer-key-statistics. Accessed March 2014.

American Cancer Society.  What are the Risk Factors for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer? http://www.cancer.org/cancer/lungcancer-non-smallcell/detailedguide/non-small-cell-lung-cancer-risk-factors. Accessed March 2014.

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