Sarah Cannon - November 28, 2015

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States. It is estimated that approximately 6.6 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with lung or bronchus cancer at some point during their lifetime.

Both non-small cell and small cell lung cancer share several risk factors. It is especially important to be aware of the lifestyle risk factors for lung cancer. lung cancer_survival rates_small

Risk Factors for Small Cell and Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

  • A current or past history of smoking: cigarettes, pipes or cigars (even "light" cigarettes)
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke
  • A family history of lung cancer
  • Previous radiation therapy to the breast or chest
  • Exposure to asbestos, chromium, nickel, arsenic, soot or tar in the workplace
  • Exposure to radon in the home or workplace
  • Exposure to air pollution
  • Infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

Smoking increases the overall risk for developing lung cancer. Heavy smokers who use beta carotene supplements are at greater risk for non-small cell lung cancer.

Screening for Lung Cancer

Early detection is a key factor in lung cancer survival rates. When the disease remains localized within the lungs, the five-year survival rate is 54 percent. However, once it has spread to other organs, the rate drops to 4 percent.

The challenge has been identifying effective lung cancer screening tests. With only 15 percent of lung cancer cases diagnosed at an early stage, researchers have been exploring new ways to detect lung cancer as soon as possible.

There are three screening tests that have been used to detect lung cancer . These include:

  • Low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) (also called low-dose spiral or helical CT scan), using low-dose radiation to scan the body in a spiral path
  • Chest X-ray to view the organs and bones inside the chest
  • Sputum cytology to view with a microscope the mucus coughed up from the lungs to check for cancer cells

What is Low-dose Computed Tomography (LDCT)?

Low-dose computed tomography uses low-dose radiation to scan the body in a spiral path, which allows for more images in a shorter period of time than older CT methods. Spiral CT scans create more detailed pictures and can be more successful at finding small areas of abnormality within the body. The procedure can be done with or without a contrast dye used to help organs and tissues appear more clearly.

Current LDCT Recommendations

It is recommended that adults, ages 55 and older, who have quit smoking within the past 15 years and who have a 30 pack-year smoking history be screened with LDCT.

Despite advances such as LDCT, screening cannot prevent all lung cancer-related deaths, and smoking cessation remains essential. For more information on lung cancer, visit .


American Cancer Society
Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics
National Cancer Institute