It’s Time You Know the Non-Smoking Factors Causing Lung Cancer

Dr. Kaushal Yadav

New Delhi, January 16-Smoking is primary risk factor for lung cancer and accounts for approximately 90% of cases. But it is not the only risk factor. A number of other risk factors may increase the development of lung cancer.

Environmental Factors and Pollutants

Environmental factors like asbestos, radon, metals (arsenic, chromium, and nickel) can potentially harm our lungs and may cause lung cancer in the long run. We can contact these metals as pollutants present in the air through breathing.

Radon Gas-When uranium, thorium, or radium, which are radioactive metals break down in rocks, soil and groundwater, they forma radioactive gas called Radon. People can be exposed to radon primarily from breathing radon in air that comes through cracks and gaps in buildings and homes. Because radon comes naturally from the earth, people are always exposed to it.

If you live in a home with high radon levels and smoke too, you increase your risk of developing lung cancer. Having your home tested is the only effective way to determine whether you and your family are at risk of high radon exposure.

The three prominent non-tobacco carcinogens which are strongly associated with cancer are Arsenic, asbestos and radon. Exposure to these agents can lead to genetic and epigenetic alterations in tumor genomes, impacting genes and pathways involved in lung cancer development.

Radiation Exposure

This rare but still a possibility. Various studies of survivors of nuclear catastrophes have shown increased risk for lung cancer, especially in nonsmokers. There is evidence for increased lung cancer risk in industrial radiation workers, especially those who process plutonium and may inhale radioactive particles.

The risk of cancer may increase by long-term, low-dose occupational radiation affecting the lungs. There is a still along way to go to develop improved safety protocols and screening programs to better define this risk.

Pulmonary Fibrosis

Pulmonary fibrosis is a lung disease that occurs when lung tissue becomes damaged and scarred. This thickened, stiff tissue makes it more difficult for your lungs to work properly. As pulmonary fibrosis worsens, you become progressively more short of breath.

Pulmonary Fibrosis has the potential to increase lung cancer risk by seven times. It is associated with increased risk of lung cancer as a result of the occurrence of atypical or dysplastic epithelial changes in fibrosis which progressed to invasive malignancy. In that situation, the cancer will develop in the area of major fibrosis.


Having three or more alcoholic drinks a day increased lung cancer risk by 30 percent. Heavy beer consumption carried a slightly higher risk than wine and liquor.

How to Keep Lung Cancer Away

One should avoid smoking, second hand smoking, check the levels of radon in at home, avoid carcinogenic foods at work, go for dark chocolates, blueberries, strawberries as they have high antioxidants, have cruciferous vegetables. These eating habits may reduce the risk of lung cancer, however their role in keeping cancer at bay has not yet been proven.

(The writer is Surgical Oncologist, Paras Hospitals, Gurgaon)

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