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:

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. Prostate and breast cancer are the most common forms of cancer in men and women, respectively.

The ACS estimates there will be over 235,000 new cases and more than 130,000 deaths from lung cancer in 2021. NSCLC is the most common form of lung cancer, accounting for 84% of cases.

These numbers are high, but there are fewer new lung cancer cases every year in the U.S. The decline may be due to a fall in the rate of smoking and improvements in early detection and treatment.

Smoking is the main 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. People who smoke are 15–30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die 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:

According to the CDC, males were 12% more likely to develop lung cancer than females. This may be because men are more likely to smoke than women, with 15% of men and 13% of women identifying as smokers in the U.S.

Older research from 2013 examining 385 NSCLC patients concluded that females also had higher NSCLC survival rates than males.

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 70. Lung cancer is rare in people ages 45 years and under.

Older age also affects how well people respond to treatment. For example, a 2013 study found that people over 60 survived for an average of 38 weeks with NSCLC, and people under 60 survived for 57 weeks.

The study also found that responses to chemotherapy were worse in older people, who were also more likely to develop anemia.

The relationship between race and ethnicity with NSCLC is complex.

The ACS states that Black men are around 15% more likely to get lung cancer than white men. However, Black women are 14% less likely to develop lung cancer than white women.

Data from the CDC suggest that the risk of lung cancer is similar for Black and white people, at around 427 and 437 cases per 100,000 people, respectively. People of Hispanic descent are the third most likely to get NSCLC, followed by Asian people and Pacific Islanders.

Radon is a radioactive gas and a common cause of lung cancer. 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. For example, exposure to radon can increase the risk of NSCLC.

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

  • Tobacco: Tobacco is the leading risk factor for lung cancer. All tobacco products can lead to NSCLC, including second-hand exposure to smoke. Stopping smoking and avoiding areas where other people are smoking can reduce the risk of tobacco exposure.
  • Radon: Exposure to radon 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.
  • Asbestos: 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.
  • Dietary supplements: Some dietary supplements can increase the risk of lung cancer. For example, two large studies found that beta carotene increased the risk of lung cancer in people who smoke.

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:

  • 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 U.S., and most cases are NSCLC. Smoking is the main risk factor for NSCLC. However, some demographic factors can also increase the risk, such as being male.

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