Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is a common form of cancer. Some groups of people are at greater risk of NSCLC than others, such as men and older adults.

Lung cancer is a serious disease that causes cancerous cells to spread from tissue in the lungs. NSCLC is a form of lung cancer. There are four main types of NSCLC:

  • adenocarcinoma
  • squamous cell carcinoma
  • large cell carcinoma
  • NSCLC undifferentiated or not otherwise specified

This article discusses groups who are at higher risk of NSCLC and how to prevent the disease.

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According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), lung cancer is the second most common form of cancer in the United States for both men and women. Prostate and breast cancer are the most common forms of cancer in men and women, respectively.

The ACS estimates over 234,580 new lung cancer diagnoses and 125,070 deaths from lung cancer in 2024. NSCLC is the most common form of lung cancer, accounting for 80–85% of people with lung cancer.

These numbers are high, but fewer people are developing lung cancer every year in the United States. The decline may be due to a fall in the rate of smoking and improvements in early detection and treatment.

Smoking is the leading risk factor for NSCLC. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking is a factor in 80–90% of lung cancer deaths. The CDC also indicates that people who smoke are 15–30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from lung cancer than those who do not smoke.

However, some groups of people are more likely to get NSCLC due to demographic factors, which include the following:

The ACS estimates that the overall lifetime risk of developing lung cancer is similar between men and women: 1 in 16 in men and 1 in 17 in women.

However, the ACS also indicates that men are more likely to die from lung cancer than women (65,790 men vs. 59,280 women).

Lung cancer rates are declining, but they are falling more slowly in women. According to a 2020 report, women ages 40–49 now have higher rates of lung cancer compared to men in the same age group. More studies are needed to determine why this may be happening.

The likelihood of lung cancer increases with age. The ACS estimates that most people with lung cancer are ages 65 years and over, and the average age of diagnosis is about 70. Lung cancer is rare in people ages 45 years and under.

Age also affects how well people respond to treatment. For example, a 2020 study found that people over 60 survived for a median of 10 months with NSCLC, and those under 60 survived for a median of 18 months.

The relationship between race and ethnicity with NSCLC is complex.

The ACS states that Black men are around 12% more likely to get lung cancer than white men. However, Black women are 16% less likely to develop lung cancer than white women.

Data from the CDC suggest that the rate of lung cancer is highest in white people, with around 51.4 per 100,000 people, respectively. Black people have the second highest rate, at 47.7 per 100,000. American Indian people and Alaska Native people have the next highest rates at 45.2 and 28.2 per 100,000 people, respectively.

The rates for lung cancer among Asian and Pacific Islanders and Hispanic people are 28.2 and 23.6 per 100,000 people, respectively.

NSCLC in Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI)

Some research shows disparities in lung cancer care and mortality among certain Asian American groups.


Asian American females who have never smoked also have a greater risk of getting lung cancer compared to females in other ethnic groups. This may have genetic causes.

Radon is a radioactive gas and is the second most common cause of lung cancer. It is an invisible, odorless, and tasteless gas that occurs naturally in the atmosphere.

Radon becomes a serious health risk if it accumulates indoors, and regular testing is essential for prevention. It develops naturally and is more likely to be at dangerous levels in specific parts of the U.S., such as the Northern Great Plains.

People who work in asbestos mining, insulation, and other jobs that involve exposure to asbestos or other cancerous substances could be at higher risk of NSCLC.

People who work in mines, mills, or shipyards may be at risk of exposure to asbestos, which could cause NSCLC over time. Wearing a protective mask can reduce the risk of exposure.

Preventing NSCLC is not always possible. However, the following NSCLC risk factors could help reduce the likelihood of developing the condition. These include:

  • Tobacco: Tobacco is the leading risk factor for lung cancer. All tobacco products can lead to lung cancer, including second-hand exposure to smoke. Stopping smoking if you smoke and avoiding areas where other people are smoking can reduce the risk of tobacco exposure.
  • Dietary supplements: Some dietary supplements can increase the risk of lung cancer. For example, according to the ACS, two large studies found that beta carotene increases the risk of lung cancer in people who smoke.
  • Family history: A family history of lung cancer is also a risk factor. People with lung cancer in their families should take extra precautions to avoid risk factors for NSCLC.

They should also watch out for warning signs of the disease, including:

  • persistent or worsening cough
  • difficulty breathing
  • pain in the chest
  • coughing up blood
  • wheezing
  • rough or gravelly voice
  • tiredness
  • unexplained weight loss
  • lack of appetite
  • difficulty swallowing
  • swollen face or neck

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the United States, with NSCLC being the most common form. Smoking is the leading risk factor for NSCLC. However, some demographic factors, such as being male, can also increase the risk.

Avoiding risk factors for NSCLC can lower the likelihood of its development. People with a family history of lung cancer should take extra care to avoid these risk factors.