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What are the risk factors for lung cancer?

Updated: Sep 7, 2020

By a Medical Student at Cambridge


Risk factors for lung cancer:

The International Agency for Research on Cancer and the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Research have found over 40 risk factors for lung cancer [1]. In this section, we will look at three of the most important risk factors for lung cancer: tobacco smoking, ionising radiation and asbestos exposure.

2.1. Smoking Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, not just in the UK, but worldwide. When interviewing Dr Maggie Harris, a Clinical Oncologist at the Christie who specialises in lung cancer, she informed me that around 90% of her patients diagnosed with lung cancer are smokers.

Government efforts to raise awareness about the dangers of smoking, including the complete banning of TV advertising in 1991 [2], the banning of smoking in public places in 2004 [3] and the introduction of warning labels on tobacco packaging have all helped to reduce the smoking rates in the UK, but the number of deaths due to lung cancer remains very high. To understand why, we must look at some epidemiological data examining the link between smoking and death due to lung cancer. The graphs below show the number of deaths from lung cancer in the UK correlated to cigarettes smoked per year (1910 – 1990) [4]: