Lung Carcinogens

Carcinogen: A substance, radionuclide or radiation that directly promotes cancer or increases cancer propagation. In simple terms, something that causes cancer.



In the US, lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women. Overall, the survival from lung cancer is dismal, with only a 15-16% 5-year survival. The predominant cause of lung cancer is exposure to tobacco smoke, primarily from active smoking (accounting for about 85-90% of lung cancer cases in the US). Therefore, lung cancer is one of the leading causes of preventable death.

In addition to the carcinogens in tobacco, however, there are other known and recognized causes of lung cancer. Many of these occur in industrial or occupational settings, but others are environmental.

The following are considered known carcinogens by IARC, capable of causing lung cancer:

  1. Arsenic
  2. Asbestos
  3. Beryllium and beryllium compounds
  4. Bis-chloro-methyl ether (BCME)
  5. Cadmium
  6. Chromates
  7. Coal tars
  8. Ionizing radiation
  9. Mustard gas
  10. Nickel
  11. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
  12. Radon and radon progeny
  13. Silica
  14. Soot


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

NIH National Toxicology Program’s 11th Report on Carcinogens

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

Alberg AJ, Samet JM. Epidemiology of Lung Cancer. Chest 2003;123:21-49S.

National Cancer Institute report on Smoking and Tobacco