How to Prevent Lung Cancer in Five Steps

Nov. 8, 2022

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. It is also the most preventable.

Preventing Lung Cancer

Why are More People Developing Lung Cancer?

More and more people are developing lung cancer— people are living longer, and the risk of developing lung cancer only increases with age, and smoking rates have increased over time. Smoking, especially smoking cigarettes, is the main cause of lung cancer. The national cancer institute states that smoking causes 87% of all lung cancer deaths in the US.

The Growing Risk of Lung Cancer

The risk of developing lung cancer is growing for both men and women and has been since the 1970s. In the U.S., lung cancer is now the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women. Repeated cigarette smoking over time is the main cause of lung cancer, as this consistent abuse of the lungs damages DNA and leads to the growth of cancer cells.

Secondhand smoke exposure, or the smoke that comes from a burning cigarette, pipe or cigar, or smoke breathed out by a smoker, also increases the risk of developing lung cancer. Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke are at increased risk for lung cancer because the smoke still contains cancer-causing substances.

Other factors may play a role in the development of lung cancer, but the Lung Cancer Specialists at the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center want to arm you with knowledge to help you avoid and prevent lung cancer.

Lung Cancer Prevention in 5 Main Steps

You can decrease your chances of getting lung cancer if you take some important steps:

  1. Stop Smoking.
  2. Commit to Regular Exercise.
  3. Understand Your Family History.
  4. Decrease Time Spent Around Secondhand Smoke.
  5. Check Your Home for Traces of Radon Gas.

In this article, we will go into further detail about each of these simple lung cancer prevention steps.


Stop Smoking

1. Stop Smoking - Get a Lung Cancer Screening as a Follow Up

According to the American Cancer Society, smoking greatly increases the risk of developing lung cancer—it’s about 23 times higher in men who smoke and about 13 times higher in women. Smoking is the leading lung cancer risk factor for both small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

Quitting smoking is the best way to prevent lung cancer. If you have already quit smoking, congratulations—you’ve taken the most important step in reducing your risk of developing lung cancer. Even if you’ve already quit, a history of smoking can still put you at an increased risk of developing the disease.

That’s why it’s important to get a low-dose CT scan as a follow-up after you quit smoking. Low-dose CT scans can help find lung cancer early when it is most treatable.

  • A lung screening is a low-radiation CT scan. It is recommended for people who have a heavy smoking history, and it can detect lung cancer early when it’s potentially curable.

Quitting smoking has many other immediate health benefits, including:

  • More energy, feeling as though you can breathe deeper and a better ability to taste and smell food.
  • Within 2 to 5 years of quitting, risk for stroke is reduced to that of a nonsmoker.
  • Risk for lung cancer drops by half within 5 years of quitting, and it continues to decrease the longer you remain smoke-free. 
  • 10 years after quitting smoking, risk for lung cancer is about the same as a nonsmoker’s risk.
  • You will also have a lower risk for other types of cancer, such as mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney, and pancreatic cancer.
  • Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. Quitting is the best thing you can do for your health.

It doesn't matter if it's cigarette smoke or tobacco smoke—if you have never smoked, don’t start.

Need Help Quitting?

Join UC Health’s Win by Quitting Smoking Cessation Program. A professional, provider-run program designed to help smokers quit as soon as possible. The program aims to help people stop smoking in up to 12 weeks, but can continue for those who may need longer care and attention

Plan to Exercise Regularly


2. Plan to exercise regularly

Engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity on five or more days per week or engage in at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity on three or more days per week.

Aerobic activity can include walking, running, jogging, swimming or biking.

If you are unable to do this level of activity, you can still benefit from being active for shorter periods. Even 10 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a day is beneficial.

Muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days per week are also beneficial and can include lifting weights and using resistance bands.

Why does exercise prevent lung cancer?

Exercise has many benefits outside of lung cancer prevention. It can help control your weight, reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke, lower your blood pressure, and improve your mental health.

Exercise and increased lung function

Regular exercise strengthens your lungs and helps them work more efficiently. When you are physically active, your heart pumps more blood through your body and the lungs work harder to supply the extra oxygen your muscles need.

Over time, this makes your lungs stronger and better at taking in oxygen and removing carbon dioxide from your body.

Additionally, regular exercise helps to reduce inflammation throughout the body, including in the lungs.

Exercise also reduces inflammation and strengthens your immune system, both of which may help protect you from lung cancer.

Some studies have found that people who get regular physical activity have a lower risk of lung cancer, even if they smoke.

While we aren't suggesting that you can keep smoking if you exercise, there are clear preventative benefits that prove exercise can improve the health of your lungs.

It’s never too late to start exercising. If you have been inactive for a while, start slowly and build up to the recommended amount.

Understand your family history of lung cancer


3. Understand Your Family History

If you have a family member who has had lung cancer, you may be at an increased risk for the disease.

Talk to your doctor about your family history and whether you should get screened for lung cancer, even if you don’t smoke.

Some genetic conditions can also increase your risk for lung cancer. These include:

  • BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations: These inherited gene mutations are commonly associated with breast cancer, but they can also increase the risk for ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer.
  • Lynch syndrome: This disorder is caused by changes in certain genes that control the repair of DNA. People with Lynch syndrome have a higher risk of colon cancer, endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer, stomach cancer and other types of cancer.
  • RECA: This rare genetic disorder is caused by a change in the RAD51C gene. People with RECA have an increased risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
  • CHEK2: This is a gene that helps to repair DNA damage. A change in this gene can increase the risk of breast cancer, prostate cancer, and other types of cancer.

Learn more about the causes and risk factors for lung cancer.

If you have a family history of lung cancer or any of these genetic disorders, talk to your doctor about risk factors and whether you should be screened.

Decrease time spent around secondhand smoke


4. Decrease Time around Secondhand Smoke

Avoid secondhand smoke as much as possible.

When you inhale cigarette smoke, even secondhandedly, you expose your lungs to more than 7,000 chemicals—many of which are known carcinogens.

Secondhand smoke is the combination of smoke that comes from the burning end of other people's cigarettes and the smoke out of the smoker’s mouth.

Secondhand smoke is harmful and contains many of the same toxic chemicals as cigarettes, which can damage your lung cells and increase your risk of lung cancer.

If you live with a smoker, try to create a smoke-free environment in your home. This will help protect you and your family from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke.

You can also avoid secondhand smoke by not being around people who are smoking in public or otherwise.

Check your home for traces of radon gas


5. Check your Home for Traces of Radon Gas

Radon is radioactive gas that comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, water and rock.

It is odorless and invisible, and it can get into your home through cracks in the foundation or other openings.

Radon gas can build up to high levels inside homes and other buildings and radon exposure has been linked to lung cancer.

If you live in an area known to have high radon levels, it's important to test your home for the presence of this gas.  The environmental protection agency provides information on testing for radon, as well as strategies to reduce exposure.

You can purchase a do-it-yourself testing kit from a hardware store or order one online.

If your home tests positive for radon, there are ways to reduce the amount of gas present.

You can contact a radon mitigation specialist to install a system that will remove radon gas from your home.

Bonus Tip #6!

Eat a Healthy Diet

You have probably heard eating a healthy diet as the end-all, be-all advice, but how does this specifically work for preventing lung cancer?

In general, a healthy diet includes plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Foods rich in vitamin E, lycopene, selenium and beta-carotene are antioxidants that may help protect against lung cancer.

A healthy diet should also be low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars. Eating too many foods that include high amounts  can increase your risk for lung cancer because they decrease cell efficiency and resiliency—lung cells included.

Processed meats, such as bacon, sausage or deli meats, are also linked to an increased risk of lung cancer because of the chemicals used in their processing.

Eating a healthy diet can help you maintain a healthy weight, have more energy and reduce your risk of developing all types of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. These chronic conditions will make it even harder to exercise, further damaging your chances of preventing lung cancer.

These factors can also help reduce your risk of lung cancer. So, be sure to include plenty of healthy foods in your diet!

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 513-585-UCCC.