Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer deaths in both men and women in the United States. While only 12-15% of patients with lung cancer are being cured with today's treatments, more than 90% of lung cancers are preventable.
The overwhelming majority of lung cancers, about 85%, are caused by cigarette smoking. There are currently fifty million smokers in the U.S. and another fifty million are ex-smokers.
This means that approximately one third of the population of our country is at high risk for this terrible disease and for multiple other tobacco-related diseases, including cancers of the mouth, tongue, throat, larynx, esophagus pancreas, bladder and kidney, and also coronary artery disease, peripheral artery disease, gangrene of the legs and stroke.
Radon is considered to be the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. today. Radon gas can come up through the soil under a home or building and enters through gaps and cracks in the foundation or insulation, as well as through pipes, drains, walls or other openings. Radon causes between 15,000 and 22,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the United States. About 12% of all lung cancer deaths are linked to radon.
Radon problems have been found in every state. The EPA estimates that nearly 1 out of every 15 homes in the U.S. has indoor radon levels at or above the level at which homeowners should take action - 4 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L) on a yearly average. Radon can be a problem in schools and workplaces as well.
Because you cannot see or smell radon, the only way to tell if you are being exposed to the gas is by measuring radon levels. Exposure to radon in combination with cigarette smoking, greatly increases the risk of lung cancer. That means for smokers, exposure to radon is an even greater health risk.
Another leading cause of lung cancer is on-the-job exposure to cancer-causing substances or carcinogens. Asbestos is a well-known, work-related substance that can cause lung cancer, but there are many others, including uranium, arsenic, and certain petroleum products.
Lung cancer takes many years to develop. However, changes in the lung can begin almost as soon as a person is exposed to cancer-causing substances. Soon after exposure begins, a few abnormal cells may appear in the lining of the bronchi. If a person continues to be exposed to the cancer-causing substance, more abnormal cells will appear.