Clinical guidance

Lung Cancer Q&A

Published April 2, 2024

About 4 out of every 5 lung cancer deaths are linked to cigarette smoking — so not smoking is the best thing you can do to lower your risk of lung cancer. For people at high risk for lung cancer, testing is available.

What is lung cancer?

Lung cancer is a collection of abnormal cells that starts in the lungs. There are two types of lung cancers: small cell and non-small cell. These types grow differently and are treated differently.

What causes lung cancer?

Smoking cigarettes is the leading cause of lung cancer. Lung cancer risk is also higher for people who use other tobacco products (like cigars or pipes) or breathe other people’s smoke (called secondhand smoke).

Radon, a naturally occurring gas, is the second leading cause of lung cancer. It can’t be seen, tasted, or smelled. People may breathe in high radon levels if they live or work in buildings where radon comes in through cracks or holes.

Should I get tested for lung cancer?

It’s recommended that you get tested for lung cancer if you fall into all 3 of these categories:

  • You’ve smoked an average of 1 pack of cigarettes a day for 20 years. (This could look like, say, smoking ½ a pack a day for 40 years or 2 packs a day for 10 years.)
  • You smoke now or have quit within the last 15 years.
  • You’re between 50 and 80 years old.

How can I get tested for lung cancer?

You can get a low-dose computed tomography (also called a low-dose CT scan, or LDCT), the only recommended screening test for lung cancer. An LDCT scan is an x-ray of your lungs. It only takes a few minutes and it isn’t painful.

What else can I do to prevent lung cancer?

  • Don’t smoke. (It’s never too late to quit! Talk to your provider about the interventions available to make quitting easier and more successful.)
  • Avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Get your home tested for radon.
  • Follow health and safety guidelines at work to avoid contact with carcinogens (things that can cause cancer).

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (July 31, 2023). Basic Information about Lung Cancer.