Cancer 101: 5 Leading Causes of Lung Cancer in Non-smokers


Cancer 101: 5 Leading Causes of Lung Cancer in Non-smokers

Lung cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths worldwide. It occurs when abnormal cells grow uncontrollably and form a lung tumor. The tumor can spread to other body parts through the bloodstream or lymphatic system. There are two main types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC), both associated with different risk factors and treatment options.

While smoking is the most significant risk factor for lung cancer, not all lung cancer cases are caused by smoking. About 10-15% of lung cancer cases occur in non-smokers. This means that other factors can cause lung cancer besides smoking. Bearing this in mind, we will discuss the leading causes of lung cancer in non-smokers, including

1. Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoke, also known as passive smoking or environmental tobacco smoke, is the smoke that comes from the burning end of a cigarette, cigar, or pipe, as well as the smoke exhaled by the smoker. Secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, including at least 70 carcinogens. When non-smokers inhale secondhand smoke, they are exposed to these harmful chemicals, damaging their lungs and increasing their risk of lung cancer.

Moreover, secondhand smoke is responsible for about 7,300 lung cancer deaths each year in the United States alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For this reason, avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke is crucial in reducing the risk of lung cancer in non-smokers.

2. Carcinogen Exposure

Carcinogens are substances that can cause cancer. They can be found in various environments, including the workplace, home, and community. Non-smokers exposed to carcinogens over a long period are at risk of developing lung cancer. The most common carcinogens that can cause lung cancer include asbestos, diesel exhaust, and arsenic.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral widely used in construction and insulation until the 1970s. When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can get lodged in the lungs and cause cancer. Diesel exhaust, produced by diesel engines, contains several carcinogens, including benzene and formaldehyde. Arsenic is a toxic chemical found in contaminated drinking water and soil.

3. Radon Exposure

Radon is a radioactive gas produced by the natural decay of uranium in soil, rock, and water. It can seep into homes and buildings through cracks and gaps in the foundation, and when inhaled, it can damage the lungs and cause lung cancer. It is estimated that radon exposure causes up to 21,000 lung cancer deaths in the United States each year.

Because of this, testing radon levels in homes and workplaces is crucial in preventing exposure and reducing the risk of lung cancer. Homes should be tested for radon every two years, and if high levels are found, steps should be taken to mitigate the problem. This can include sealing cracks and gaps in the foundation, installing a radon mitigation system, or improving ventilation in the affected area.

4. Air Pollution

Air pollution is synonymous with lung cancer. The toxic particles and chemicals in the air can damage the lungs and increase the risk of lung cancer. Common sources of air pollution include vehicle emissions, industrial facilities, and burning fossil fuels. Additionally, indoor air pollution can contribute to lung cancer risks, such as from cooking with unvented stoves or using certain cleaning products and chemicals.

It’s also worth noting that lung cancer caused by air pollution is often more common in urban areas with a higher density of cars and factories. To reduce exposure to air pollution, use air purifiers and regularly clean ventilation systems to improve indoor air quality. While you cannot help but do activities that otherwise expose you to air pollution, you can help in your own way.

5. Genetic Mutations

Genetic mutations are a real thing, and some can cause lung cancer. The mutations can be inherited or acquired, and they can affect the way cells grow and divide. Some mutations can increase the risk of lung cancer, while others can directly cause it. For example, mutations in the EGFR gene can lead to non-small cell lung cancer development.

It’s worth noting that not everyone who has a genetic mutation will develop lung cancer. However, knowing your family history and potential genetic risks can help you make informed decisions about your health and screening options.


Lung cancer is among the most common and deadly cancers worldwide, and various factors can cause it. For this reason, understanding your family history and potential genetic risks can help you make informed decisions about your health and screening options. Early detection can greatly increase the chances of successful treatment and long-term survival, so consult your doctor if you have any concerns or risk factors.

CenterPoint Radiation Oncology can help you with lung cancer radiation. We understand the effects of cancer on the body, so we go above and beyond through comprehensive radiation treatments to ensure you get a fighting chance for recovery. Schedule an appointment today!

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