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Last Edited: 5/26/2004

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is possibly one of the most preventable types of cancer.  At least 85% of lung cancer cases are caused by cigarette smoking.  Other, rarer causes include exposure to radon, asbestos, pollution, lung diseases (such as tuberculosis) and a personal history of lung cancer.  Lung cancer is a malignant tumor that starts in the lung tissue and, if left untreated, may spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.  Cancers that begin in the lungs are divided into two major types, non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer, depending on how the cells look under a microscope.  Each type of lung cancer grows and spreads in different ways and is treated differently.  The National Cancer Institute website provides excellent information on what you need to know about lung cancer including information about detection, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.


Lung cancer alone kills almost 14,000 Californians each year, more than prostate, breast and colorectal cancer combined.  Lung cancer incidence rates in California dropped by 22.3% between 1988 and 1999 while rates in other areas of the US dropped by only 4.7% during that time.  California rates for other smoking-related cancers declined as well.  These achievements are due, in large part, to the success of California’s tobacco control initiatives.


In 1992, the US Environmental Protection Agency declared that secondhand smoke (also called second hand smoke) is cancer-causing in humans.  Each year, about 3,000 non-smoking adults in the US die of lung cancer as a result of breathing smoke from someone else’s cigarettes.  Second hand smoke can be particularly harmful to children.


The Environmental Health Investigations Branch (EHIB) has played a key role in evaluating the interrelationships between tobacco smoke exposure and risk of lung and other cancers, with the goal of bringing to light the adverse health effects of smoking on both the smoker and those who live or work with a smoker.



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