Understanding the Different Causes of Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is aggressive and deadly. The statistics are sobering.

According to the American Lung Association, more than 154,000 Americans die from lung cancer every year. Lung cancer accounts for one-fourth of all cancer-related deaths, and lung cancer care exceeds $13.4 billion every year (not including lost productivity).

At Rockland Thoracic & Vascular Associates, our experienced team of lung experts knows that lung cancer is deadly serious, which is why we make sure all of our patients understand what causes this life-threatening disease. Here are the main culprits. 


Far and away the No. 1 cause of lung cancer is smoking, responsible for 90% of all cases of lung cancer. The chemicals known as carcinogens in tobacco directly affect the lining of your lungs, damaging the tissues and changing the cells, which is the onset of cancer.

Living or working with a smoker

Even if you never light up a cigarette, you can get lung cancer by breathing in the smoke exhaled by a family member or co-worker. Secondhand smoke contains the same harmful chemicals that damage the smoker’s lung cells.


After tobacco smoke, radon is the next leading cause of lung cancer. You can’t see or smell radon, which makes it incredibly difficult to avoid. This stealthy gas seeps up out of the soil and easily enters your home without any warning. 

In fact, one in every 15 American homes tests positive for radon. Fortunately, you can easily test for radon and mitigate it. 

Exposure to chemicals

Hazardous chemicals that get into your lungs can also cause cancer. Some workplaces expose you to high levels of toxic substances, such as:

  • Asbestos
  • Uranium
  • Petroleum products
  • Nickel
  • Chromium
  • Arsenic
  • Diesel exhaust

Even breathing in dust or other particles can eventually lead to lung cancer, so occupations such as woodworking, firefighting, traffic control, and any other jobs that have you breathing in particulates all day can put you at risk. 


The same DNA that’s responsible for your eye color may also be the culprit behind your cancer. Scientists know that smoking and all the other lung cancer causes we just mentioned lead to disease because they damage your tissue cells. 

Unfortunately, some genes that you inherit from your parents may predispose you to lung cancer for the same reason. For example, you may be born with DNA that mutates, changes your chromosomes, or limits your ability to get rid of cancer-causing chemicals that enter your system. 

Sometimes, your genes can be perfectly fine until something in the environment causes them to change. This is called acquired gene mutation, and it covers smoking, as well as other chemical causes. 

Surviving lung cancer

In advanced stages, lung cancer survival rates aren’t promising. Less than 19% live beyond five years after their diagnosis. But that number jumps to 56% if we detect your lung cancer early. 

At Rockland Thoracic & Vascular Associates, we regularly screen our patients who are at high risk for lung cancer to make sure we catch it in its infancy and eradicate it if possible. 

If you have lung cancer, we may begin rounds of chemotherapy and/or radiation to shrink and destroy damaged cells. In more advanced cases, surgery may be the best option, in which case we use the most advanced technology available, including video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS). 

This allows our surgeons to perform the most precise and minimally invasive procedure possible. 

To learn more about lung cancer or our cutting-edge treatments, schedule a consultation at any of our locations in Pomona, Fishkill, the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, or Goshen, New York, or Englewood, New Jersey.