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Tobacco Fact Sheets

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Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death. In Illinois, between 1973 and 1992, the death rate from lung cancer rose more than the rate for all other cancers combined, including breast, prostate and colorectal cancers. In Illinois, projections for 2001 indicate that there will be more than 8,540 new cases of invasive lung cancer and more than 7,000 people will die. Experts predict that in the next four years, twice as many women will die from lung cancer as from breast cancer.

The lungs are large and cancer can grow in them for a long time, often for as long as 10 years or more, before symptoms occur. For this reason, by the time many people find out they have lung cancer, it has already become advanced and spread to other parts of the body.

Lung cancer is largely preventable by avoiding its risk factors.


Cigarette smoking is the direct cause of about 85 percent of all lung cancers. Other causes are exposure to secondhand smoke, radon, certain industrial substances such as asbestos and occupational radiation. Additionally, medical and environmental sources, air pollution, and tuberculosis or other lung diseases can also cause lung cancer.

About 20 percent of people who die from lung cancer have never smoked. People who quit smoking may still get lung cancer.


Persons who have smoked cigarettes have the largest risk of getting lung cancer. Pipe and cigar smokers have a higher risk of lung cancer than nonsmokers. The number of years a person smokes, the amount smoked per day and how deeply the person inhales all affect risk of developing lung cancer. Others at risk include those exposed to secondhand smoke, individuals who have had tuberculosis or other lung diseases such as emphysema, and people exposed to substances such as asbestos, chromium, radon and other industrial or environmental chemicals.


Early diagnosis of lung cancer is difficult because a lung tumor big enough to cause symptoms is usually advanced. Occasionally, lung cancer is detected as a shadow on a routine chest X-ray. If present the following symptoms should be discussed with a doctor.

  • persistent cough
  • coughing up blood
  • change in the color of sputum
  • chronic pain in back, chest, shoulder
  • reoccurring bronchitis or pneumonia
  • swelling of neck and face
  • unusual tiredness
  • shortness of breath or wheezing
  • loss of appetite or weight
  • hoarseness


If you smoke, quit. Stopping smoking, or never starting, greatly reduces a person's risk for developing lung cancer. Stay away from second-hand smoke.

Eliminate radon if it is present in your home. A kit available at most hardware stores allows homeowners to measure radon levels in their homes. The home radon test is easy to use and inexpensive. Once a radon problem is corrected, the hazard is gone for good.

Protect your lungs from inhaled particles that can lodge in the lungs, damage cells and increase the risk for lung cancer. Workers should use protective equipment, such as masks, and follow recommended work practices and safety procedures. Avoid asbestos exposure.


You can find out more about lung cancer and its treatment by contacting the following organizations:

National Cancer Institute

American Cancer Society

American Lung Association

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