Who’s at Risk for Lung Cancer? Who Should be Screened?
Current and Former Smokers
Tobacco use is the leading cause of lung cancer, the top killer cancer in the United States for both men and women. It is responsible for approximately 87 percent of lung cancer cases (American Lung Association 2011). Even if you were once a smoker and quit, you have an increased chance of developing lung cancer.
The lung cells of smokers go through changes that can lead to lung cancer. The longer a person has been smoking, and the more cigarettes she or he smoked a day, the greater her or his risk is of developing lung cancer.
Current and former smokers who are over the age of 40 with a history of smoking at least a pack a day for 10 years should talk to their physician about obtaining a low-dose Computed Tomography (CT) lung screening.
Even if you’re not a smoker, you can still be at risk for lung cancer, especially if you:
- Have been exposed to radon, a colorless, odorless radioactive gas emitted by rocks and soil in some areas that can get trapped in houses and buildings.
- Work or have worked with asbestos. This also puts you at risk for mesothelioma (another form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and stomach) and if you are smoker, your risk is greatly increased. Other carcinogenic substances found in the workplace like arsenic and some forms of silica and chromium also increase lung cancer risk.
- Have had significant exposure to secondhand smoke. Have either been exposed to cancer-causing agents in the environment, or have lung scarring from certain types of pneumonia.
- Have a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, who has had lung cancer, especially if the relative contracted it while young. Smokers with close relatives with lung cancer are at even higher risk for lung cancer.
- Are an African American who has a family member diagnosed with of lung cancer
Other Groups Who Should Discuss a Computed Tomography (CT) Screening with Their Physicians
- Veterans who had active duty on submarines, in Vietnam or the Gulf War, and had exposure to asbestos, nuclear propulsion, herbicides, battlefield emissions or other carcinogens.
- Employees, past and current, of munitions plants (who may be eligible for free screening under the Department of Energy’s Worker Health Protection Program).
- People exposed regularly to secondhand smoke, such as airline personnel or hospitality industry workers.
Some people have never smoked, never worked with asbestos and have never been exposed to any known cancer-causing agents; yet, they still get lung cancer, and we don’t know why. Right now there is no sure way to prevent lung cancer. However, if you are a smoker, the single most important action you can take to reduce your risk for developing lung cancer is to quit smoking.