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NH Environmental Public Health Tracking Program
Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Lung cancer forms in the tissue of the lung, usually in the cells lining the air passages. The lungs are the organs we use to breathe. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.

Lung Cancer and the Environment

Cigarette smoking is the single most crucial risk factor for, and leading cause of, lung cancer. Exposure to radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is a recognized causal factor for lung cancer and air pollution may increase lung-cancer risk slightly. The impact of outdoor air pollution on lung cancer needs further study. A history of certain lung diseases also increases the risk for lung cancer. Diets low in fruits and vegetables might increase the risk of lung cancer in persons who smoke. Occupational substances categorized by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as known lung carcinogens include:

Exposure and Risk

Smoking is the most common cause of lung cancer. Even for nonsmokers, exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke increases the risk for lung cancer. According to the 2006 Surgeon General’s Report, the evidence suggests that secondhand smoke exposure can cause lung cancer in lifetime nonsmokers, regardless of where the exposure occurs (home, work, restaurants, etc.).

Studies also indicate that exposure to certain chemicals, such as arsenic, chromium, and silica, substances used or produced in foundries, and substances produced by processing coal may increase the risk for lung cancer, especially among smokers.

Another risk for lung cancer is exposure to radon gas. Radon can be found throughout the United States. It can infiltrate homes, offices, and schools and cause high indoor radon levels. The greatest exposure likely occurs in homes where most personal time is spent.

Reduce Your Risk

Not smoking is the most effective way to reduce the risk for lung cancer. Risk may also be reduced by limiting exposure to secondhand smoke and by testing and mitigating homes for radon. Increasing fresh fruit and vegetable consumption may also decrease risk, as well as help prevent other diseases. Also, applicable health and safety rules, like wearing protective equipment, should be adhered to in high-risk jobs.

Environmental Public Health Tracking Program
NH Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Public Health Services
29 Hazen Drive, Concord, NH 03301
Tel: (603) 271-4988 800-852-3345 ext.4988

copyright 2009. State of New Hampshire