Risk factors

The “risk factor” is what increases the probability that a person may develop a certain disease. Most of the patients suffering from lung cancer were or are smokers. Cigarette smoke contains a number of carcinogens, capable of irreversibly damaging the cells of many organs. Cigarette smoking is not only a risk factor for lung cancer, but also for tumours of the oesophagus, the larynx, the mouth, the bladder, the kidney, the cervix uteri and the pancreas.

Thus it is clear that thousands of lives may be saved every year if people would not smoke. An effective anti-smoking campaign may be conducted in school age, but also later it is important to convince people to kick smoking because halting the tobacco habit at a young age let that person reacquire over the years the same risk of getting a lung cancer as a non-smoker.

Breaking the smoking habit should always be encouraged, even in patients already affected by lung cancer, especially when they have been submitted to surgical resection in order to reduce the possibilities of the onset of a second tumour.

To this purpose there are various programmes for preventing and quitting the tobacco habit, a number of them are promoted by the Italian Ministry of Health (see the related file “Anti-smoking centres in Italy”)

Even the exposure to the so-called second-hand smoke increases the risk of lung cancer as to the general population. Cigarette smoking is not the only risk factor known. There are carcinogens, which are present in the working environment, that increase the risk of getting such a disease. These substances include: Asbestos, Chromium, Arsenic, Beryllium, Vinyl Chloride, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, Chloromethylether, Tar, Radon and so on… Frequently, as in the case of asbestos, the risk of developing a mesothelioma, that is a tumour affecting the pleura (the membrane lining the lungs) rises dramatically in smokers because these substances strengthen their effects in the presence of tobacco smoke.

Genetic susceptibility plays an important role in the onset of the disease, even though environmental factors are prevailing in the aetiology of such a tumour.

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