10 Tips for Lung Cancer Prevention

Lung cancer prevention goes far beyond avoiding smoking. More than half of people who develop lung cancer at this time are not current smokers, and lung cancer in never smokers is increasing. Whether you've never smoked, or if you continue to smoke today, there are likely things you can do to lower your risk of developing lung cancer, and some are amazingly simple.

Why is it important to check out this list of 10 things? Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in both men and women in the United States. Women are more likely to die from lung cancer than breast cancer, and men are much more likely to die from lung cancer than prostate cancer. All you need to get lung cancer is lungs.


Don't Smoke (and If You Quit, Get Screened)

Close-Up Of Burnt Cigarettes In Bowl On Table
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Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, but if you've never smoked, don't stop here. As noted earlier, lung cancer in never smokers is increasing, especially in young women who have never smoked.

For those who smoke, it's never too late to quit smoking. For those who have been diagnosed with lung cancer, smoking cessation may improve survival.

What many people do not realize is that chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis) are an independent risk factor for lung cancer. In other words, having COPD increases your risk for lung cancer whether or not you have smoked, and to a very significant degree. Considering that COPD is now the third leading cause of death in the United States, this is of great concern.

Former Smokers

Unfortunately, the risk of lung cancer does not go back to normal after a person quits, and lung cancer is now more common in former smokers than current smokers. If this makes you uncomfortable, keep in mind that a screening test for lung cancer is now available for people who once smoked but kicked the habit. Sadly, far too people are being screened at the current time; and lung cancer screening can save more lives than screening for all other cancers combined.


Check Your Home for Radon

Radon (Chemical Element)
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For non-smokers, checking your home for radon is the number one thing you can do for lung cancer prevention. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers, and the second leading cause of lung cancer overall.

Radon is an odorless gas that results from the decay of natural uranium in the soil beneath our homes. Elevated levels of radon have been found in homes in all 50 states and around the world. The only way to know if you are at risk is to test your home for radon. If levels are abnormal, radon mitigation can reduce levels to normal almost 100% of the time.

To put this in perspective, it's thought that there are roughly 27,000 deaths each year in the U.S. due to radon-induced lung cancer. Each year roughly 40,000 women die from breast cancer. If we found a simple test that could find the cause of breast cancer (radon test kits cost less than $20 in most hardware stores and are often offered free by state health departments) and if positive, had a relatively easy procedure that could eliminate the cause (in the analogy, radon mitigation) of 68% of breast cancer deaths, wouldn't it be common knowledge? Yet a number of people equivalent to 68% of those who die from breast cancer die from radon-induced lung cancer each year.

There has been some concern about granite in countertops causing lung cancer. Though some granite countertops may emit dangerous levels of radon, this is of much less concern that radon exposure from the soil beneath your home.


Be Careful and Aware at Work

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It’s estimated that up to 29% of lung cancers in men are related to on-the-job exposures to carcinogens (cancer-causing substances). The number is slightly lower, with the number of women thought to have an occupational component to their lung cancer being 5%.

Some of the substances that increase the risk of lung cancer include arsenic, cadmium, chromium, diesel exhaust, and nickel.

Employers are required to provide Material Safety Data Sheets on chemicals you may be exposed to at work. Make sure to check these out. Yet, it's important to keep in mind that some protective measures may give you false confidence that you are safe. For example, with some chemicals, special respirators are required and a mask will do nothing to prevent exposure.


Be Careful and Aware at Home

Logs burning in fireplace
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Lung cancer prevention is important at home as well. Chemicals that contribute to lung cancer are found not only at the workplace but may be under your sink or in your garage. Carefully read labels on household products and follow the instructions for safe usage. Wood smoke from wood-burning stoves and fireplaces may also increase the risk of developing lung cancer.

Keep in mind that there are often substitutes to products that are considered carcinogens (such as brass cleaners), and that you should always wear gloves. We've seen now with medications that come in patch form that the skin isn't always a barrier, and many toxins in these products can be absorbed through the skin.

Even when a product isn't considered a carcinogen, there are often simple substitutes. For example, most house cleaning can be done using vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, and olive oil. Not only does using these substitute products potentially lower your risk, but it can be good for your checkbook as well.


Avoid Secondhand Smoke

Young child being exposed to secondhand smoke

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Secondhand smoke is responsible for roughly 3,000 cases of lung cancer each year in the United States alone. Living with a smoker increases your chance of developing lung cancer by 20% to 30%. Thankfully, smoking laws have made it easier to stay “secondhand smoke-free” in recent years, and will likely play an important role in lung cancer prevention.


Exercise for Lung Cancer Prevention

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Even moderate amounts of exercise can aid in lung cancer prevention. Studies suggest that even something as simple as gardening twice a week is associated with a lower risk of developing lung cancer.


Eat a Variety of Fruits and Vegetables

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A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is linked with a lower risk of developing lung cancer. Recently, studies suggest that variety may be even more important than quantity. Make lung cancer prevention fun by trying out new foods in the produce section. Try to choose a rainbow of colors, including dark greens such as spinach and broccoli, the whites of onions, the reds of apples and tomatoes, and the orange of orange juice and winter squash.

It's easier to understand the importance of choosing a wide variety of colorful foods if you take a look at some of the phytonutrients (plant based chemicals) present in different fruits and vegetables. Different phytochemicals have different effects, such as serving as antioxidants, anti-inflammatory agents, enhancing the immune system, or preventing the formation of carcinogens in the body.

On a reverse note, inorganic phosphates found in processed meats and cheeses are associated with an increased risk of lung cancer.


Enjoy a Cup of Green Tea

Cup of green tea
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Green tea has been shown to prevent some of the damage to cells caused by smoking, and some studies suggest people who consume more green tea appear to have a lower risk of lung cancer.

Human studies of green tea and cancer have been inconclusive. The National Cancer Institute doesn't recommend for or against using green tea to reduce the risk of any type of cancer.

Drinking green tea isn’t a “get out of jail free” card. Quitting smoking is the most important thing you can do to lower your risk.


Limit Your Intake of Alcohol

Male friends drinking and laughing in recreational bar
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Another important step in lung cancer prevention may include limiting your intake of certain types of alcoholic beverages. For men, the heavy consumption of beer and hard liquor is associated with an elevated risk of developing lung cancer. In contrast, a moderate intake of wine in men was linked with a lower risk of developing the disease.


Be Wary of Supplements

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Advertisements would lead us to believe that nutritional supplements are beneficial in lung cancer prevention, while in fact, studies have actually linked the use of some supplements to a higher risk of developing lung cancer.

Researchers noted that people who consumed foods containing greater amounts of beta-carotene had a lower risk of developing lung cancer. With this in mind, they designed a study in which one group was given beta-carotene supplements and the other was not. They found that men who smoked actually had a higher risk of developing lung cancer if they took beta-carotene in supplement form.

Supplements that have raised concern include beta-carotene, retinol, lutein, and vitamin E. If you are considering taking nutritional supplements, talk with your doctor or ask her to refer you to someone knowledgeable about the risks and benefits of supplements for your specific situation.

A Word From Verywell

There are many things you can do to lower your risk of lung cancer—something that's important for never smokers as well—but we tend to hear less about these other risk factors due to the stigma of lung cancer being a "smoker's disease." Due to this link, less research into additional causes has been done in comparison with other cancers such as breast cancer. Sadly, the rate of lung cancer in never-smokers is increasing, but hopefully this will lead to further research as to the "other" causes.

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  1. Neha K, Haider MR, Pathak A, Yar MS. Medicinal prospects of antioxidants: A review. European Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. 2019. 178:687-704. doi:10.1016/j.ejmech.2019.06.010

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