doctor looking at an x-ray with a senior

Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer in America. It is hard to detect, and often by the time the symptoms appear, the cancer has already spread to other areas of the body and is hard to treat. But lung cancer, for the most part, is very preventable. The best way to prevent lung cancer is to avoid exposure to things that cause it, like smoking, second-hand smoke, and radon and other dangerous air pollutants.

Here are some facts and statistics from the American Lung Association about these leading causes of lung cancer:


This is nothing new! We know that smoking causes lung cancer and should be avoided, but 393,000 people in America die each year from lung cancer caused by smoking. Sadly, these deaths could have been prevented. The easy solution to this problem: Don’t smoke! But for some people, that is easier said than done. If you are struggling to quit smoking, turn to your doctor, family and friends for help and support, and utilize resources such as the American Lung Association’s “Freedom From Smoking” program that offers advice and techniques to help you quit.

Second-hand Smoke

In addition to those who die of lung cancer from smoking, 50,000 people in America die each year from lung cancer due to second-hand smoke. These people, young and old, probably never even picked up a cigarette. They were around others who smoked. That is too many preventable deaths! And be aware that marijuana smoke is even harder on the lungs than cigarette smoke, so please don’t expose your friends or family to any kind of second-hand smoke.


Radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer deaths in America, with 21,000 radon-related deaths each year. If you smoke and are exposed to high amounts of radon, your risk of getting lung cancer increases greatly.

Radon is an odorless, tasteless and colorless gas that is released naturally from the rocks in the ground. It occurs everywhere, in every state, city and neighborhood. We are all exposed to small amounts of radon in the air we breathe—it is unavoidable and not something to worry about. It becomes dangerous when it seeps up from the ground below a house, getting into the air in the home through cracks in the foundation and walls, and is trapped in high levels inside the home, with nowhere to escape. Breathing this higher concentration of decomposing radon gas is what causes lung cancer.

It’s interesting that we don’t hear too much about the dangers of radon, especially when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that one in every fifteen homes in America has unsafe indoor radon levels and recommends that every home be tested for radon. It is impossible to predict whether your house is affected or not, and high levels of radon can exist in your neighbor’s home and not in yours. The only way to find out about radon in your home is to test the air.

This is actually a fairly simple process. You can buy a do-it-yourself kit at your local hardware store or online from the National Radon Program Services. Many states also have programs to help you purchase a kit. You place the kit in an out-of-the-way location and let it sit for a certain period of time (long-term testing kits return the best results). When the time is up, you send the kit to a lab for testing (usually included in the cost of the kit), and they will send you the results.

If you find that your home has unsafe levels of radon, you don’t have to abandon your home—it can be fixed. You can work with an EPA or state-certified contractor to seal cracks in the foundation and walls, and if necessary, change the flow of air through your home. It is possible to reduce the amount of radon trapped in your home and make it safe for you and your family.


These may be the top causes of lung cancer, but there are other factors that can contribute to this disease as well, like having a family history of lung cancer or being exposed to hazardous chemicals or air pollution. And there are even unknown causes—times when someone gets lung cancer and the doctors can’t figure out why. As with all diseases and challenges we face, sometimes things are unavoidable, but for the most part, lung cancer is highly avoidable. Be aware of the causes and take action or make necessary changes in your life to protect your health and the health of your loved ones.