How To Prevent Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is a type of cancer that occurs when malignant (harmful or cancerous) cells form in the tissues of the lungs. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths for both women and men in the United States.

There are two main types of lung cancer: small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). 

Although you cannot prevent all cases of lung cancer, there are some steps you can do to lower your risk of developing the condition—such as making healthy lifestyle changes.  

doctor showing older woman scans from lung cancer screenings

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Who Is Most at Risk?

Smoking is the leading risk factor for lung cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, 9 out of 10 lung cancer cases in men and 8 out of 10 lung cancer cases in women are a result of smoking cigarettes. Research also estimates that people who smoke are 20 times more likely to get lung cancer than those who don’t smoke.

Your risk of lung cancer changes based on the number of cigarettes you smoke per day and the number of years you have been smoking. Generally, the more you smoke, the higher your risk of developing lung cancer. Keep in mind: smoking low-tar or low-nicotine cigarettes does not reduce the risk of lung cancer. 

However, smoking is not the only risk factor for lung cancer. Other factors include:

  • Secondhand smoke: Secondhand smoke (or inhaling someone else’s cigarette smoke) can also contain toxic chemicals that cause lung cancer in people who smoke. 
  • Family history: People with a family history of lung cancer are twice as likely to develop the condition themselves. While research is ongoing about certain genes that may be tied to lung cancer, experts do know that smoking tends to run in families. 
  • HIV status: People living with HIV are twice as likely to develop lung cancer than those without HIV. 
  • Exposure to toxins: Being exposed to harmful chemicals like radon and asbestos can raise your lung cancer risk. 
  • Beta carotene supplement: People who smoke one or more packs of cigarettes per day are more likely to develop lung cancer if they also take a beta carotene supplement—a type of antioxidant that promotes vitamin A. The lung cancer risk is even higher if people who smoke and take the supplement also consume at least one alcoholic drink per day. 

How to Reduce Risk 

While the most important step you can take to lower your lung cancer risk is to stop smoking, there are other things you can do to decrease your chances of developing the condition, such as getting lung cancer screenings and avoiding exposure to harmful chemicals. 

Quit Smoking

The best way to prevent smoking is to not smoke at all. But, you can still significantly reduce your risk of lung cancer even if you do have a history of smoking. When you quit smoking, the lung tissue that has become damaged is gradually able to start repairing itself—while also lowering the chance that cancer cells begin to form in lung tissue.

Research shows that people who quit smoking for more than 15 years are 80% to 90% less likely to develop lung cancer than people who continue to smoke.

Quitting smoking is not easy, so it’s OK if you are finding it challenging to break the habit. The good news is that options such as nicotine replacement products, antidepressant therapy, and counseling can help you quit.

Get Screened for Lung Cancer 

Regular lung cancer screenings are not for everyone but may be helpful for those with a long history of smoking tobacco or a family history of lung cancer. The goal of a lung cancer screening is to detect the disease in its earlier stages—a time when the cancer is easier to treat than in advanced stages. 

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends annual lung cancer screenings for adults between the ages of 50 and 80 with a 20-pack-year smoking history. If you currently smoke or quit smoking less than 15 years ago, it may be a good idea to visit your healthcare provider for a lung cancer screening.


You can calculate a pack-year smoking history by multiplying the number of packs you smoke a day by the number of years you have been smoking. For instance, a 20 pack-year smoking history means that you smoked one pack of cigarettes per day for 20 years or two packs of cigarettes per day for 10 years. 

The screening test that providers use for lung cancer is called a low-dose computed tomography (LDCT). LDCT screening has been shown to reduce the risk of death from lung cancer by 20% and the overall risk of death by 7%.

It’s important to note that LDCT is not a perfect tool for lung cancer screening. Research shows that almost 25% of people who had yearly low-dose CT screening for three years had inaccurate or abnormal test results. Of these abnormal results, more than 95% of them were considered “false positives”—meaning the results of the lung cancer screening incorrectly showed that people had lung cancer when they didn’t have the condition.

However, lung cancer screenings can still be a good way to inform you and your healthcare provider about any potential signs of lung cancer. 

Reduce Workplace Exposures

Exposure to certain chemicals can increase your lung cancer risk. Chemical exposure used to be common in workplaces some decades ago. Thanks to labor laws and environmental policies, workplace exposure to cancer-causing agents and secondhand smoke is lower now. 

Though, it’s still a good idea to know which chemicals can increase your lung cancer. The following substances may raise your cancer risk:

  • Asbestos
  • Arsenic
  • Chromium
  • Nickel
  • Beryllium
  • Cadmium
  • Tar and soot

In some cases, exposure to radiation may also increase your risk of lung cancer. Radiation exposure may come from radiation or chemotherapy therapy for cancer treatment, imaging studies such as CT scans, or being around electrical power lines. 

Avoid Radon Exposure at Home 

Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that is dangerous to your general health. This radioactive gas comes from the breakdown of uranium in soil and rocks. Radon exposure can happen when the substance seeps up through the ground and into the air and water supply.

You might find radon in your home if it escapes from the ground and enters the cracks in the floor, walls, or foundation. To protect yourself from radon exposure, use a home test kit to check the radon levels in your home. If radon levels are too high, it’s important to contact a radon mitigation professional for treatment.

Discuss With Your Healthcare Provider

If you have a history of smoking or a family history of lung cancer, it’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider about your lung cancer concerns and risk. Discussing these issues early can reduce your chances of developing lung cancer. 

Your healthcare provider can help you understand steps you can take to prevent lung cancer and help you make any major lifestyle or medical changes. During your appointment, you may also consider asking about a lung cancer screening or any other testing measures that your healthcare provider recommends. 

A Quick Review 

Lung cancer occurs when harmful cells develop in the tissue of the lungs. You can’t always prevent lung cancer, but there are several changes you can make to reduce your cancer risk.

The most important preventative method for lung cancer is to stop smoking. Other ideas include avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke and harmful chemicals like asbestos at work or radon at home. 

If you think you might be at a higher risk for developing lung cancer, talk to your healthcare provider about steps you can take to lower your risk and ask if a lung cancer screening or testing is right for you. 

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  1. National Cancer Institute. Lung cancer prevention.

  2. American Cancer Society. Lung cancer prevention.

  3. Deffebach ME, Humphrey L. Patient education: Lung cancer prevention and screening (Beyond the basics). In: Post TW. UpToDate. UpToDate; 2022. 

  4. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Recommendation: Lung cancer: Screening

  5. Environmental Protection Agency. What is radon gas? Is it dangerous?

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