Skip to Content

View Additional Section Content

Published on November 15, 2013

Smoking is No. 1 Cause of Preventable Cancer Deaths in U.S., MU Pulmonologist Says

COLUMBIA, Mo. - According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 200,000 people in the United States are diagnosed each year with lung cancer, and more than 150,000 die from the disease each year. 

 "Lung cancer is largely a preventable disease," said Vamsi Guntur, M.D., a pulmonologist at University Hospital. "Yet it's one of the most common cancers. It tends to cause more deaths than breast, colorectal, prostate and pancreatic cancers combined. So when you think about how many people die each year from a disease that is very preventable, it really is tragic." 

Although there are additional factors that can contribute to some lung cancers, such as exposure to asbestos, radon gas or industrial-related toxic materials, tobacco smoke is the main cause of the disease in the U.S.

"Smoking is the No. 1 cause of lung cancer in the U.S.," Guntur said. "But lung cancer is not just limited to those who smoke."

Guntur points out that another major cause of lung cancer is exposure to second-hand smoke. Nonsmokers exposed to second-hand smoke are approximately 20 percent more likely to develop lung cancer than non-smokers who are not exposed to second-hand smoke.

"Even if a person doesn't smoke but lives with a smoker or works in an environment where cigarette smoke is prevalent, such as a casino, there is a higher risk for that person to develop lung cancer," Guntur said.
Guntur recommends reducing your risk for developing lung cancer by:

  • Not smoking, or quitting smoking
  • Avoiding second-hand smoke
  • Following health and safety guidelines when working with or around toxic materials

"In order to understand lung cancer, you need to know about smoking and the effects of second-hand tobacco," Guntur said. "The decrease we've seen in smoking rates in the U.S. during the past several decades has saved countless lives. We still have a very long way to go, but history has shown we can make tremendous strides toward eliminating lung cancer by reducing tobacco use."

For help to quit smoking, contact Ellis Fischel Cancer Center at (573) 884-1512.