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Is Lung Cancer Contagious?

Medically reviewed by Danielle Leonardo, M.D.
Posted on May 20, 2024

Lung cancer is a scary diagnosis that often leaves individuals and their loved ones grappling with questions and concerns. You may even wonder if lung cancer is contagious. Perhaps others around you have also been diagnosed with lung cancer at the same time. Maybe you’ve recently been diagnosed and are worried about your family members getting sick. But here’s the truth up front — lung cancer is not contagious.

In this article, we’ll assure you that lung cancer cannot spread from one person to another. We’ll also clear up misconceptions for those affected by this disease and for their loved ones.

Is Cancer Contagious?

No, lung cancer is not contagious. You can’t give lung cancer to, or “catch” lung cancer from, another person. Unlike an infectious disease caused by a bacteria or virus, you cannot spread lung cancer through close contact, sharing meals, breathing near someone, coughing, or kissing. Cancer cells are unique to the person with cancer, and they cannot grow inside someone else. If a cancer cell from a person with lung cancer were to spread to a person without cancer, their immune system would destroy it.

Some types of cancer are triggered by a viral infection. For example, cervical cancer is usually caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection. However, no such infection can increase lung cancer risk. Another example is Epstein-Barr virus, which can raise the risk of Hodgkin lymphoma.

Understanding Why Lung Cancer Occurs

If lung cancer cannot be spread from person to person, then how does it occur? There are many reasons why many people in the same family or community may get lung cancer.

Lung cancer develops when normal cells in the lungs change into cells that grow and multiply quickly and continue to live when they shouldn’t. This change can be sparked by two major categories: genetics and environment.

Genetics

Genetic mutations (changes) in your DNA can cause or increase the risk of lung cancer. The two major types of mutations are germline and somatic. Germline mutations are changes in your DNA that you are born with. They can affect many people in the same family, as they are passed from parent to child.

A germline mutation may cause many people in your family to develop a disease, such as lung cancer. This is a rare cause of lung cancer. Having a mutation may make your risk of getting lung cancer higher as you age, but there are still steps you can take to stay healthy.

A somatic mutation is a change in DNA that is caused by damage to your cells. These types of mutations are not passed from parent to child. Somatic mutations can be sparked by a trigger from the environment, as we’ll discuss below.

Environment

The environment plays a major role in putting you at a higher risk of lung cancer. Substances found in the environment that have the potential to cause cancer are called carcinogens. For example, smoking cigarettes and inhaling secondhand cigarette smoke can increase the risk of lung cancer. Additionally, exposure to air pollution, radon, or cancer-causing workplace chemicals can also increase the risk. More than one person living in the same household may eventually develop lung cancer, but that could be due to cigarette use among the whole family or air pollution inside the home or in the neighborhood. It’s not because lung cancer is contagious.

Putting It All Together

Although you might share some risk factors with others, it’s not because lung cancer spreads like a cold or flu. It’s related to elements you’ve been exposed to in the environment or the traits you inherit from your parents.

If you’re not living with lung cancer, but you have family members or loved ones with the condition, there are many ways to prevent yourself from developing lung cancer. Avoid environmental triggers, such as harmful workplace chemicals, polluted areas, and smoking tobacco or other substances. Tell your doctor about your family history, including your history of lung cancer.

If you’re worried about your risk of developing lung cancer, mention it to your primary care doctor. They can help you understand your risk and give you advice on how to stay healthy. Speak to your doctor if you experience symptoms of lung cancer, such as a cough that gets worse over time, coughing up rust-colored spit or phlegm, chest pain, and unexplained weight loss.

Knowledge is power. By learning more about lung cancer and how to lower your risk, you can take control of your health and live your life with confidence.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyLungCancerTeam is the social network for people with lung cancer and their loved ones. On MyLungCancerTeam, more than 12,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with lung cancer.

Do you have questions about your lung cancer diagnosis? Where are you on your lung cancer journey? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Posted on May 20, 2024
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Danielle Leonardo, M.D. is a board-certified specialist in internal medicine and medical oncology from the Philippines and has been practicing medicine since 2014. Learn more about her here.
Scarlett Bergam, M.P.H. is a medical student at George Washington University and a former Fulbright research scholar in Durban, South Africa. Learn more about her here.

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