Lung Cancer Prevention & Detection

Risk Factors

Increased risk for lung cancer comes from a combination of lifestyle, environmental and genetic factors. Some of the major risk factors for lung cancer are:

  • Smoking (including cigarettes, pipes, cigars, marijuana and crack cocaine) accounts for over 85 percent of all lung cancers. Even after quitting smoking, former smokers remain at risk for lung cancer. Risk from smoking is based both on the number of cigarettes smoked per day and the number of years smoked.
  • Second-Hand Smoke: Nonsmokers living with smokers sustain one-quarter of the smoker's increased risk.
  • Radon: A radioactive gas from the breakdown of uranium in soil and rocks, radon is typically found in some basements with little or no ventilation, as well as in mines. You cannot see, taste or smell radon. Radon is typically found in the Western New York region. Exposure to radon and tobacco smoke can significantly increase the risk for developing lung cancer.
  • Asbestos and Other Substances: A mineral consisting of tiny inhalable fibers, asbestos is used in many industries, including steel plants, shipbuilding, brake repair, insulation, plumbing and construction. People who have certain jobs (such as those who work in the construction and chemical industries) and have exposure to asbestos, arsenic, chromium, nickel, soot, tar, and other substances have a greater risk of lung cancer. The risk increases with the number of years of exposure to these substances.
  • Air Pollution: Air pollution, including diesel fumes, may increase the risk of lung cancer.
  • Existing Lung Disease: Emphysema, chronic bronchitis, tuberculosis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Family History: People with a father, mother, brother, or sister who had lung cancer may be at increased risk of the disease, even if they don't smoke. Researchers are studying genetic markers that can be linked to lung cancer.
  • Personal History of Cancer: People who have had lung, esophageal or head and neck cancer are at increased risk.
  • Age: Most people are older than 65 years when diagnosed with lung cancer.

There is also a percentage of people who will develop lung cancer (around 12 percent) who have never smoked or whose lifestyle, behavior and exposures seem to fall outside the list of risk.

Help with Quitting Smoking

Just Breathe

Quitting smoking is hard enough, but struggling with nicotine withdrawal while undergoing cancer treatment is a major challenge. Roswell Park’s cessation program, Just Breathe, offers individualized quit plans and provides behavioral counseling, pharmacotherapy and cessation support to all RPCI patients and their families. For more information, call 1-877-ASK-RPCI (1-877-275-7724).

The New York State Smokers' Quitline

The New York State Smokers’ Quitline (1-866-NY-QUITS or 1-866-697-8487) is free and confidential service that provides effective stop smoking services to New Yorkers who want to stop smoking. 

From its beginning in 2000, the Quitline, which is housed at Roswell Park, has received well over a million calls, and has helped thousands of New Yorkers to overcome their addiction to nicotine.

The Quitline offers:

  • Telephone coaching in English and Spanish. (Translations through Language Line Services are available for other languages.)
  • A starter kit of FREE nicotine replacement medications for eligible smokers.
  • Coaching and NRT coverage for at least two quit smoking attempts per year.
  • A “click to quit” online smoking cessation service.

Screening Test for Lung Cancer? Hope on the Horizon

Biopsies are the only sure way to detect lung cancer, and they are highly involved and invasive for patients. That’s why Roswell Park researcher Sai Yendamuri, MD, FCCP, hopes to develop a blood test to help diagnose the cancer in patients before they undergo a biopsy. If successful, such a test could help with early diagnosis of lung cancer, and improve cure rates for the disease.

Specifically, his research team is looking at microRNAs, small regulatory molecules. Their preliminary work suggests that microRNA profiling of whole blood can distinguish — with high accuracy — people with lung cancer from people without lung cancer.