Causes of Lung Cancer

Causes of Lung Cancer

| from Booking Health GmbH | Diagnosis & treatment

Lung cancer is a fatal disease, which is extremely difficult to treat despite the current development of medicine. This oncology is increasingly common being one of the most prevalent types of cancer in most countries. Evidently the main reason why lung cancer develops - is due to smoking. However, there are many other risk... 

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Lung cancer is a fatal disease, which is extremely difficult to treat despite the current development of medicine. This oncology is increasingly common being one of the most prevalent types of cancer in most countries. Evidently the main reason why lung cancer develops - is due to smoking. However, there are many other risk factors that can trigger  this disease.

This article is about where lung cancer originates from, how smoking can cause it and why not all smokers have lung cancer. We will discuss what causes should be eliminated in the first place in order to minimize the risk of developing this disease.


  1. Smoking is the cause of lung cancer
  2. From which age can lung cancer develop?
  3. Lung cancer causes in non-smokers
  4. Unproved factors which can cause lung cancer
  5. How not to get lung cancer?
  6. Organization of Treatment in Germany

Smoking is the cause of lung cancer


Most often, lung cancer develops because of smoking. A smoker has a 20 times higher risk of developing lung cancer than a non-smoker. The cancer develops due to the permanent effect on the mucous membrane of bronchial carcinogens. In total, tobacco smoke contains about 60 carcinogens. The most dangerous of these are radon, benzpyrene, nitrosamine. In addition, cigarettes suppresses the immunity, thus the body becomes resistant and it is more difficult to fight oncological processes.

The relationship between smoking and lung cancer is confirmed by statistics. Currently, this disease is the world's first cause of death of men from all cancer pathologies.

The probability of getting lung cancer throughout  one’s life:

  • For a non-smoking man - 1.3%
  • For smoking men - 17.2%
  • For a non-smoking woman - 1.4%
  • For a smoking woman - 11.6%

The speed of the development of lung cancer is not affected by how strong the cigarettes are that a person is smoking. If he/she prefers light cigarettes with a low content of nicotine and tar, the risk of cancer is not reduced. This is due to the fact that lung cancer is caused not by nicotine, but benzopyrene and other carcinogens.

How quickly lung cancer develops from smoking is not affected by:

  • Whether you smoke cigarettes, cigars, hookah or pipe
  • Whether you smoke with a filter or not
  • What brands you prefer

However, researchers suggest that menthol, which is sometimes included in tobacco, is an additional cause of lung cancer. People who smoke menthol cigarettes are even more likely to develop the disease, although in itself this substance is not a carcinogen. Scientists attribute this to the fact that the person who smokes menthol cigarettes, take deeper drags of smoke.

How much must one smoke to develop lung cancer? It is established that the longer a person smokes, the higher the probability of this oncological pathology. Although it is impossible to say for sure, exactly after how many years of smoking, lung cancer can develop. There is no such rule that you can smoke for 29 years without any health risks, and at 30 suddenly develop a tumor. All processes in the lungs occur gradually.

Let us briefly explain why smoking causes lung cancer. Under the influence of tobacco smoke and carcinogens, atrophy of the epithelium of the bronchi develops and the number of goblet cells decreases. There is a replacement of the glandular components of the mucous membrane with a fibrous tissue. The cylindrical epithelium turns into a multilayered epithelium. Then develop foci of dysplasia - at first mild, then middle, then severe. In the end, in one of the pronounced locations of metaplasia, cancer can develop on the spot (preinvasive). After a few years, it turns into invasive cancer and begins to increase rapidly in size.

Quitting smoking leads to a gradual decrease in the lung cancer risk. The bronchial mucosa is restored. In 10-15 years after one stops smoking, the risk of oncopathology becomes the same as in a person who has never smoked in their life. Nevertheless, if a person who has quit smoking still develops lung cancer, the disease is more severe than that in a person who has never smoked. Such patients have reduced chances of survival.

The number of cigarettes smoked per day is also important. There is a high probability of developing lung cancer after smoking from 2 packs of cigarettes a day.

The incidence of a malignant tumor is 217 cases per 100 thousand of the population. If a person smokes one pack a day, the probability of developing cancer is 25-30% less than in two. The incidence of lung cancer in such categories of people is 144 cases per 100 thousand of the population. People who smoke an average of 10 cigarettes a day have a lesser risk of getting lung cancer. The incidence of lung cancer among such people is 51 cases per 100 thousand of the population. That is, the risk is 4 times less than for those who smoke 2 packs a day, and 3 times less compared to smoking 1 pack of cigarettes every day.

From which age can lung cancer develop?


Often smokers are interested in questions such as, ‘At what age can one get lung cancer?.’ They believe that if they stop smoking in time, they can protect themselves from all risks. This approach is not illogical. The older the person, the higher the risk of lung cancer. Lung cancer does not occur from 20 years of age. Lung cancer in the 30’s is very rare. However, after 40 the probability of this disease increases. The age group of people after 60 is more prone to pathology. In men that are 60-69 years of age, the risk of disease is 60 times higher than in the age of 30-39 years of age.

Considering the age when lung cancer occurs, you can estimate the maximum age when you can quit smoking. Best of all if you quit no later than 30 years,the recovery of the lungs will take 10-15 years. Knowing the age at which lung cancer can develop, it is not difficult to understand that in this case the probability of the disease will significantly decrease. After all, before 40-45 years the smoker's lungs will be cleared of the effects of smoking, and the likelihood of the lung cancer will be the same as that of a person who has never smoked.

But if you were not able to quit before 30 years of age, it's better to do it later than never. You already know the age when lung cancer risk increase with the greatest probability. This is at the age of 60 years. Therefore, in order not to fall into this age category of smokers waiting for the development of a tumor in the bronchi, it is necessary to quit smoking by the age of  forty five. This will significantly reduce the risk of cancer, but will not completely eliminate it.

When lung cancer develops is an individual question. Different people have different immunity. Genetics, gender, nationality, and a lot of factors of the environment influence the risk. It is impossible to accurately predict the time when lung cancer starts  to develop. Over the years, the risk increases. Therefore, quitting smoking should happen as early as possible. If you want to prevent lung cancer, the age at which to give up cigarettes is between 30 to 45 years.

Often patients ask if lung cancer can develop in at the age of twenty. It does not develop from smoking at this age. In general, lung cancer in children is a rarity. It develops only in case of gross genetic defects, expressed primary immunodeficiency and also against a background of other oncological pathologies in childhood. It can be a metastatic cancer. Occasionally, an oncological tumor develops as a result of high-dose radiation for treatment of another cancer.

Lung cancer causes in non-smokers


There are many factors that can cause lung cancer. After all, the probability of its development is influenced by other factors in addition to tobacco smoke. Let`s look at the main reasons why lung cancer also develops in non-smokers.


Radon poisoning is the second most important cause of lung cancer after smoking. Radon is a gas without color and odor. It appears when the radioactive radium decomposes. Radium, in turn, is formed from uranium, formed in the earth's crust. Radon is known as the second main cause of lung cancer after smoking. With an increase of its quantity inhaled, the risk of  the oncology increases. Its concentration in the atmosphere depends on the composition of the soil and stones. However, on the streets the gas dissipates. It is dangerous only when stored in enclosed spaces.

The reason why lung cancer is caused by a high concentration of radon is that it breaks up into solid radioactive elements that have a carcinogenic effect. These are polonium-214, lead-214 and polonium-218. They attach to dust particles and enter the lungs. Settling on the walls of the lungs, these elements cause radiation damaging the genetic material of cells, causing mutations and malignant processes.

Now you know why lung cancer develops under the influence of radon. But where does this substance accumulate? Where exactly do people come into contact with radon?

There are several options:

  • In their own house. Depending on the soil in particular geographic regions, the level of radon can be significantly increased. Increase of its concentration in the air for every 100 Bq / m3 leads to an increased risk of lung cancer by 10%. The radon released by the soil penetrates into the cracks in the walls and enters the house, where it accumulates. Most of it is contained in the basement.
  • At work. Another place of contact with radon can become a workplace. People who work in basements often breathe radon: for example, when pipes are being repaired. This gas can be contained in building materials. Workers of uranium processing plants very often come into contact with radon. The risk groups also include workers of mines with a high level of radon in soil and air.

Although radon is one of the main causes of lung cancer, it does not affect the likelihood of other types of cancer. This is due to the fact that radioactive particles settle in the lungs and do not spread with the blood throughout the body. They emit radiation in a short distance. Therefore, DNA damage occurs only in those cells that are located nearby. The radon, as the cause of lung cancer, increases the likelihood of this disease in combination with smoking. However, even as an independent risk factor, it is very dangerous.


Another reason that can cause lung cancer is the contact with asbestos. It is found in many building materials. After establishing the harmful effects of asbestos to the body in the 1970s, its production in developed countries began to decline substantially. In 2005, it was banned in Europe. Nevertheless, the material is still widely used in some countries, and many European houses were built before 2005. Most often, lung cancer can be caused by asbestos as a professional harm.

This happens when:

  • The person works at the enterprise which makes building materials from asbestos
  • The person is engaged in construction of these materials
  • The person lives in a house built of asbestos (it is released into the air when building is being repaired, or destroyed and the building materials contain asbestos)

The cause of lung cancer can only be a permanent and prolonged inhalation of asbestos. The risk group includes builders of houses, as well as employees of maritime building enterprises. Their relatives are also at risk. After all, workers bring home asbestos dust on their clothes. The cause of lung cancer can not be a short-term inhalation of asbestos. Only people who have been exposed to it for at least 15 years get sick.

Other carcinogens

In addition to radium and asbestos, there are other factors that can cause lung cancer. The substances that increase the likelihood of this disease include:

  • Radioactive ores, including uranium
  • Diesel exhaust
  • Silicon dioxide
  • Vinyl chloride
  • Nickel
  • Cadmium
  • Arsenic
  • Beryllium
  • Coal
  • Chromium compounds

Most of the substances that cause lung cancer are dangerous only if inhaled. However, some chemical compounds increase the risk of the disease with ingestion. Thus, in some regions of South America and South-East Asia, there is an increased incidence of lung cancer due to the high content of arsenic in drinking water.



Ecological factor

Contamination of the atmosphere is another reason that causes a cancerous lung tumor. Approximately 5% of all lung cancer cases are associated with industrial pollution.

Statistics of lung cancer show that city dwellers are more prone to develop this disease, compared to rural residents. This is due to car exhaust emissions. Moreover, those who live near the road with a large flow of cars are in the increased risk group.

Radiation therapy

Strong exposure to radiation can quickly cause lung cancer, as well as tumors of any other localization. Radioactive radiation is a mutagenic factor as it damages the genetic material of cells, provoking their uncontrolled extreme division.

Most people are not exposed to strong radiation exposure even in case of employment in the nuclear industry. However, a large dose of radiation can be obtained during a radiotherapy session for tumor neoplasms of another localization. Lungs most often receive their dose of radiation during radiation of the breast, less often - for other tumors with localization in the chest.

Since the average reasonable person  doesn't want to get lung cancer in addition to breast tumor, it is better to use quality types of radiotherapy. They allow to more accurately focus the rays, avoiding the harmful effects of radiation on healthy tissues.

Most modern oncological clinics today use more qualitative and sparing methods of radiotherapy. Although in developing countries, where technologies of the 1970s and 1980s are still used, it is still possible to get lung cancer by receiving a radiation  for a treatment for breast cancer.

Family history

Family history should be mentioned among the causes of lung cancer. It is proved that a person has a significantly increased risk of this disease, if he/she have a relative of the first degree who had lung cancer. However, it is not yet clear what causes lung cancer: hereditary predisposition or external factors.

Parents transmit not only genes and their lifestyle to their children. In addition, a child can be exposed to tobacco smoke, which makes him/her predisposed to oncology of the lungs. Parents and their children live in the same house, where there may be roofing materials from asbestos or a high concentration of radon in the air, which can cause lung cancer.


For smoker it is better not to take vitamin supplements and not to eat to many carrots, since lung cancer can develop more likely if a large amount of beta-carotene is ingested daily. It is a yellow pigment, which is converted to vitamin A. However, this does not apply to people without smoking habits. Only in combination with smoking, does beta-carotene increase the risk of oncological pathology.

Secondary smoke

Sometimes lung cancer develops in non-smokers due to the passive inhalation of tobacco smoke. It is assumed that this factor is associated with about 7,000 cases of cancer on an annual basis. That is, in 25% of cases, the reason why lung cancer develops in non-smokers is passive smoking.


Causes of Lung Cancer


Unproved factors which can cause lung cancer 


There are other reasons, which supposedly cause lung cancer. However, the evidence is limited, or unreliable.

Probably, the likelihood of cancer is increased because of:

How not to get lung cancer?


Knowing what causes lung cancer significantly reduces the probability of lung cancer. Most of the risk factors have been established and are manageable. Therefore, each person has sufficient opportunity for the prevention of lung cancer. It is enough to eliminate all risk factors. As a result, the probability of the disease will decrease ten times over.

Here are a few tips to  help prevent lung cancer:

  1. Quit smoking. This is the most significant risk factor, as it is possible to develop lung cancer by smoking with a probability of 17%. That is, one in six smokers will be diagnosed with lung cancer during their life. The probability is just huge. Smoking is as dangerous as a Russian roulette - if you put one cartridge in a revolver and shoot yourself in the temple, the chances of dying will be similar - one to six. However, cigarettes affect the risk of many other diseases. Therefore, it is better not to start smoking, but if you have already started, it is of importance that you give up this habit urgently. This is the best prevention for lung cancer.
  2. Limit occupational hazards. Given the risk that people who are constantly inhaling harmful substances have, it is better to avoid it. Do not work in mines and basements, so as not to breathe radon. Do not engage in construction or building the roof, if you use asbestos containing materials. It is also necessary to avoid contact with arsenic, nickel, organophosphorus fertilizers and other substances, the inhalation of which damages the body and provokes lung cancer.
  3. Eliminate the environmental factor. It is unlikely that a resident of the city will want to move to the village just to reduce the risk of lung cancer. However, there are many other things that can be done to reduce the likelihood of the disease by eliminating the environmental factor. 

Prevention of lung cancer includes:

  • Moving away from areas of high smoke pollution. You can choose to live in an apartment in a quiet residential area, preferably away from the city center. There you will have cleaner air for your lungs.
  • Moving to a city that has less or no industrial sites. Industrial centers often have a polluted atmosphere. People in these cities are more likely to develop lung cancer.

The sooner prevention measures are taken, the better you will be protected from lung cancer. If you cannot prevent the pathology, you need to start treatment on time. And it is better  to be treated in the clinics of developed countries, such as Germany.



Organization of Treatment in Germany


Lung cancer is difficult to treat. Treatment should be started as soon as possible. To increase life expectancy it is necessary to use all the achievements of modern medicine. The newest therapeutic techniques are available in major cancer centers in Germany.

To get treatment in one of the well-established clinics, you can use the services of Booking Health. We have been organizing treatment abroad for many years.

We have concluded direct contracts with all clinics in Germany, so our clients receive:

  • Quality treatment in the best German medical centers
  • Reduction in waiting time for treatment, which is important, because lung cancer spreads quickly and causes metastases
  • Saving up to 70% with the optimization of treatment costs and there is no need to pay insurance for foreign patients

We solve all organizational issues and provide a full package of services: we help with the preparation of documents, provide an interpreter and accompany the patient in Germany throughout the course of treatment. Leave your request on our website so that we can select a clinic for you and give you a quote for lung cancer treatment in Germany.


Choose treatment abroad and you will for sure get the best results!


Authors: Dr. Nadezhda Ivanisova, Dr. Sergey Pashchenko


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