Your Guide To Lung Cancer Risk Factors

Every year, more than 43,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with lung cancer, making it one of the most common types of cancer. Smoking is responsible for the largest proportion of diagnoses, with other risk factors including genetics, pollution and exposure to chemicals also increasing an individual's chances of developing the disease. 

In this article, we take a look at the most common factors that can impact your chance of having lung cancer, and what to avoid to try to decrease your risk. 

What is the risk of developing lung cancer?

The estimated risk of being diagnosed with lung cancer in your lifetime is 8% for males, and 7% for females born after 1960 in the UK. 

Interestingly, statistics from 2015 tell us that a huge 79% of lung cancer cases are preventable

This means that if you can avoid certain risk factors for lung cancer, you have a high chance of successfully avoiding developing the disease. So what are the risk factors for lung cancer?

Lung cancer risk factors

Anything that can increase your chance of getting a disease, such as lung cancer, is called a risk factor. While you may be exposed to a risk factor, this doesn't mean you will definitely develop lung cancer. 


Smoking tobacco is the biggest risk factor for developing lung cancer and is responsible for 72% of lung cancer cases in the UK and an estimated 86% of lung cancer deaths.

The longer you smoke and the more you smoke, the higher your risk of developing lung cancer. But you don’t have to be a heavy smoker to be affected — even light or occasional smoking and even second-hand smoke can increase your risk. 

The best thing you can do for your health in order to avoid lung cancer is to stop smoking completely — and the sooner you stop, the better.

Although vaping is too recent an invention to know all of its long-term effects, experts believe that the substances inhaled have the potential to cause lung damage that can lead to lung cancer.

Chemicals and workplace risks

Exposure to chemicals and other workplace risks accounts for 13% of lung cancer cases in the UK. 

Asbestos exposure is linked to around 6 to 8% of lung cancer deaths every year in the UK, with lung cancer mortality being 77% higher in asbestos-exposed workers, compared to the general population.

Other harmful substances that you may be exposed to at work that can increase your risk of lung cancer include:

  • Diesel engine exhaust fumes
  • Silica
  • Certain paints
  • TCDD (typically in metal and pesticide production)
  • Radon
  • Mineral oils
  • Arsenic and inorganic arsenic compounds
  • Welding fumes

People who are most commonly exposed to high levels of these substances include workers in industries such as construction, painting, welding, glassmaking, bricklaying, mechanics and transportation.  

Air pollution

Outdoor air pollution is responsible for around 1 out of 10 lung cancer cases in the UK. 

Your personal risk depends on the levels of air pollution you’re regularly exposed to — cities tend to have higher levels of pollution, especially in high-traffic areas. 

Family history

A family history of lung cancer in a first-degree relative (parent, sibling or child) is associated with a two-fold increased risk of developing lung cancer, independent of smoking. It’s not clear why this is, but an inherited faulty gene could cause it. 

You may also be at higher risk of developing lung cancer from second-hand exposure to smoke or chemical substances such as radon. 


As with any type of cancer, your chances of developing lung cancer increase as you get older.

In the UK, more than 44% of people diagnosed with the disease are 75 or over. Although cancer can affect anyone, it’s rare in people under 40 years old.

Previous cancer treatment

You have a higher risk of developing lung cancer if you’ve had treatment for cancer in the past, particularly if you’ve had radiotherapy to your chest.

Previous lung disease

Previous lung diseases can increase your risk of developing lung cancer compared to those who have not had a previous lung condition. This can include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) — the two main types being emphysema and chronic bronchitis — and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).

If you’ve had lung cancer in the past, your chances of developing another lung cancer are also higher compared to someone who has not.

Lowered immunity 

You may have an increased risk of lung cancer if you have a lowered immune system. You may have a lowered immune system if you have a condition such as HIV or AIDS or if you are taking immunosuppressant drugs.

High doses of beta-carotene

More research is needed, but there is some evidence to suggest that taking high doses of beta-carotene (20 to 30 milligrams per day) in the form of supplements could increase the risk of lung cancer in people who smoke. It may also increase the risk of lung cancer in those who used to smoke but have given up. 

How to reduce your risk of lung cancer

There’s nothing you can do to prevent lung cancer entirely. However, avoiding the risk factors listed above as much as possible can help decrease your risk. Namely, stopping smoking, avoiding second-hand smoke, and not starting to smoke, will have the most significant effect on your risk of developing the disease. 

If you work in an industry where you are exposed to high levels of cancer-causing chemicals and substances, taking precautions to protect yourself by wearing a mask can also help reduce your risk.

It’s also important to maintain a healthy lifestyle — eating a well-balanced diet full of fruit and vegetables and aiming to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week — as this can help reduce your risk of any type of cancer.

Get tested for lung cancer with Check4Cancer

If you’re worried about lung cancer or are at a higher risk of developing the disease, it’s important to get tested as soon as possible.

Check4Cancer’s at-home blood test, LungCheck, is a quick and easy way to detect lung cancer in its early stages and will also assess your risk of developing the disease.

Order your LungCheck test kit today and receive your results within 14 days.

An abnormal result does not necessarily mean you have lung cancer. If you receive an abnormal test result, and meet the clinical criteria, we’ll refer you for a CT scan.