A risk factor is anything that affects a person’s chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. Some risk factors, like smoking, can be changed. Others, like a person’s age or family history, can’t be changed.
But having a risk factor, or even several risk factors, does not mean that you will get the disease. And some people who get the disease may have few or no known risk factors. Even if a person with lung cancer has a risk factor, it is often very hard to know how much it may have contributed to the cancer.
Several risk factors can make you more likely to get lung cancer.
- Smoking tobacco – including cigarettes, cigars, and pipes
- Secondhand smoke (breathing in the smoke of others)
- Air pollution
- Radiation therapy to treat cancers in the chest
- Arsenic in drinking water
- Certain workplace exposures
- Having had lung cancer before
- Having a family member with lung cancer
For more information about these factors and how they increase the risk of lung cancer, see the section about risk factors in our more detailed document Lung Cancer (Small Cell).
Last Revised: 01/19/2016