Are You at Risk for Lung Cancer?

It’s hard to understand how some people can smoke several packs of cigarettes a day for years and never get lung cancer, but people who’ve never smoked can develop this insidious disease. 

When it comes to lung cancer, we look at your risk factors to determine your likelihood of getting the disease. Risk factors are circumstances, habits, environments, or traits that increase your chances of lung cancer at some point in your life. 

At Rockland Thoracic & Vascular Associates, our extensive team of pulmonary specialists can let you know where you stand. 

Lung cancer, like many cancers, is highly treatable if caught early, so learn your probability of getting it and the signs of lung cancer. And if you do develop this cancer, partner with specialists like ours, who can detect and treat the disease. 

Here are some of the factors that increase your chances of getting lung cancer.


It’s no secret that smoking is the No. 1 cause of lung cancer. About 80% of those who die from lung cancer are smokers. The more you smoke, the greater your risk. 

Don’t be fooled by variations, such as “light” cigarettes, which claim to have less nicotine, and menthol cigarettes, which only make it easier to inhale the smoke more deeply. And cigarettes aren’t the only culprits. Cigars and pipes are just as dangerous.

Living or working with a smoker

When you live or work with a smoker, you not only breathe in the smoke, you also breathe in whatever the smoker exhales. This is called secondhand smoke, and it increases your chances of getting lung cancer significantly. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 7,000 people die every year from lung cancer caused by secondhand smoke. 

Working with asbestos

Asbestos is a fibrous, flexible, and fire-resistant mineral. Because it’s almost indestructible, it’s used in many industrial and consumer products, such as insulation, paper, cloth, cement, plastic, and ceramics.

Unfortunately, if you breathe in asbestos dust, the tiny fibers get trapped in your lungs, damage the tissues, and can lead to lung cancer.

Despite government regulations to reduce the use of asbestos, it’s still an integral part of manufacturing, so if you work in any of the following industries, you may be exposed to asbestos and be at risk for lung cancer:

  • Mining
  • Ship building
  • Construction
  • Electrical 
  • Firefighting
  • Military

Some houses built before 1970 may still have asbestos in the ceiling and floor tiles, paint, roof shingles, pipes, insulation, and cement. 

Radon gas exposure

When the naturally occurring uranium in rocks and soil breaks down, it releases a gas called radon, which is invisible, tasteless, and odorless — but not harmless. 

Radon exposure is the No. 2 cause of lung cancer in the United States. You don’t typically have to worry about radon outdoors, because it dissipates quickly so your exposure is minimal. But if it’s indoors, every breath you take exposes your lungs to small amounts of radiation, which can lead to lung cancer over time. 


There’s a long list of chemicals that can harm your lung tissue and lead to cancer if you inhale them. These include:

  • Arsenic
  • Nickel
  • Silica
  • Cadmium
  • Coal and coal byproducts
  • Mustard gas
  • Beryllium
  • Vinyl chloride
  • Chloromethyl esthers

If you work with or around these compounds and substances, exercise extreme precaution and get screened for lung cancer regularly.

Radiation exposure

Radiation can damage your lung tissues and lead to lung cancer. Anyone who mines or processes uranium for use in nuclear weapons or power plants may be exposed. The most common way it gets into your body is when the tiny airborne dust particles enter your lungs.

Diesel exhaust

Many trucks and large engines (think tractors, buses, and trains) run on diesel instead of gasoline. Unlike gas, diesel contains soot, which is the particulate portion of the fuel. If you breathe in exhaust from a diesel engine at work, while you’re traveling, or in traffic, it may increase your likelihood of getting lung cancer.

If you’re at risk for lung cancer, we encourage you to come in for a comprehensive evaluation. You can request an appointment online or call any of our locations: in Pomona, Goshen, Fishkill, and Washington Heights in Manhattan, New York, as well as Englewood, New Jersey.