Remember when your mom always told you “what you do now will catch up with you when you’re older?” She wasn’t lying. Lung cancer is a disease that mostly affects the elderly, with 83 percent of those living with cancer being 60-years-of-age or older, but reducing your risk of getting lung cancer starts when you’re young.

According to the American Lung Association, smoking contributes to 80 and 90 percent of lung cancer deaths in women and men. Men who smoke are 23 times more likely to develop lung cancer and exposure to secondhand smoke causes approximately 7,330 lung cancer deaths among nonsmokers every year. Although smoking is a major risk factor, it is not the only one.

“Lung cancer is the highest cause of cancer death in the United States,” says David Wilson, MD, a pulmonologist who specializes in treating patients with lung cancer at UPMC. “More people die of lung cancer than the next three cancers combined, which would be colon, breast, and prostate.” 

So how can you reduce your risk of getting lung cancer?

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Tips to Reduce Your Risk of Lung Cancer

Approximately 415,000 Americans living today have been diagnosed with lung cancer at some point in their lives. Although there is no sure way to prevent lung cancer, there are plenty of ways for you to reduce your risk of getting it.

Don’t smoke. If you’ve never smoked, don’t start now. Make sure to talk to your children about the dangers of smoking and give them the tools they need to stand up to peer pressure.

Quit smoking. If you currently smoke, STOP. Quitting smoking greatly reduces your risk of developing lung cancer. Quitting is not easy, in fact, it takes seven to 10 tries for most people. Don’t get discouraged, get help to quit! Talk to your doctor about methods and stop-smoking aids to help you quit. Options may include nicotine replacement products, medications and support groups.

Here are 7 tips to set yourself up for success.

1.  Quit smoking.

  • Set a quit date. It puts a stake in the ground that solidifies your commitment to quitting. Pick a significant date like a birthday or anniversary. Associate your smoking quit date with something meaningful.
  • Remind yourself why you are quitting. If you give yourself daily reminders, it will keep you going when the going gets tough.
  • Find a quit buddy. Find a friend who is also looking to quit smoking. Having a support system around you is important to quit smoking successfully. If you don’t have a quit buddy, enlist the help and support of family and friends to keep you on track.
  • Prepare for quit day. Purge your home, car and workplace of all tobacco products. You don’t want any temptations when you find yourself in a weak moment. Come up with some alternative activities to get you through your first month when your risk of relapse is high.
  • Leverage support groups. Attend a smoking cessation program in your area. Talk with your doctor about what programs are right for you.
  • Talk to your doctor about smoking cessation aids. There are a number of smoking cessation aids out there. Whether you choose gum, the patch or medication, talk to your doctor about helping you lessen your withdrawal symptoms.

2.  Avoid secondhand smoke. If you live or work with a smoker, urge them to quit. Ask them to smoke outside and avoid areas where people smoke. If you visit a bar or restaurant, ask to be seated in the non-smoking section.

3.  Test for radon. The radon levels in your home should be checked periodically, especially if you live in an area where radon is a known problem. Contact your local public health department or a local chapter of the American Lung Association for information on radon testing.

4.  Avoid carcinogens. If you work around carcinogens, take precautions to protect yourself. Follow your employers posted precautions. If you’re given a face mask, wear it. Ask your doctor how to better protect yourself while on the job.

5.  Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Choose a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables. Foods that are rich in vitamins and nutrients are best. Avoid taking large doses of vitamins in pill form. They can actually be more harmful.

6.  Exercise. If you don’t exercise regularly, START. Begin slowly and try to exercise most days of the week.

7.  Get screened. UPMC Pinnacle offers lung screenings at multiple locations. Screenings are offered to those considered “high risk,” including:

  • Those between the ages of 55-79 who have smoked the equivalent of one pack daily for 30 years.
  • Those between the ages of 55-79 who have smoked the equivalent of one pack daily for 20 years and have one additional risk factor including radon exposure, asbestos exposure, cancer history, strong family history of lung cancer, significant secondhand smoke exposure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or pulmonary fibrosis.

“Lung cancer screening is an early detection test for high-risk individuals for lung cancer,” says Dr. Wilson. “It’s similar to mammography for breast cancer or colonoscopy for colon cancer. It involves a low dose CT scan, which is about one-eighth of the radiation of a standard diagnostic CT scan. It’s designed to be done annually.” 

See if you qualify for a screening by visiting us online or please call 717-231-8339.

If you currently smoke and want help quitting, UPMC Pinnacle has the programs and resources you need to quit. Browse our tobacco cessation programs at

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC Harrisburg

UPMC Harrisburg is a nationally recognized leader in providing high-quality, patient-centered health care services in south central PA. and surrounding rural communities. UPMC Harrisburg includes seven acute care hospitals and over 160 outpatient clinics and ancillary facilities serving Dauphin, Cumberland, Perry, York, Lancaster, Lebanon, Juniata, Franklin, Adams, and parts of Snyder counties. These locations care for more than 1.2 million area residents yearly, providing life-saving emergency care, essential primary care, and leading-edge diagnostic services. Its cardiovascular program is nationally recognized for its innovation and quality. It also leads the region with its cancer, neurology, transplant, obstetrics-gynecology, maternity care, and orthopaedic programs.

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