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Is Lung Cancer Inherited?

If Someone in My Family Has Lung Cancer, Am I More Likely to Get It?


Updated July 14, 2014

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It is well known that some cancers, such as ovarian cancer and colon cancer, run in families. Even though the role of heredity in lung cancer is not as well-known, having a family history of lung cancer does increase our risk to some degree. Hereditary lung cancer is higher in women, nonsmokers and those with early onset lung cancer (lung cancer that occurs before the age of 60). Overall, it has been estimated that 1.7% of lung cancers up to the age of 68 are hereditary. Several factors are associated with hereditary lung cancer, including:

How Closely a Family Member is Related

Having a first-degree family member (parent, sibling or child) with lung cancer roughly doubles the risk of developing lung cancer. This risk is more for women and less for men and stronger in nonsmokers than smokers. Having a second-degree relative (an aunt, uncle, niece or nephew) with lung cancer raises your risk by around 30%.

Smoking Status, Lung Cancer and Heredity

Smokers who develop lung cancer are less likely to have a family history than nonsmokers that develop lung cancer. That said, however, for those who have a genetic predisposition to lung cancer, smoking appears to amplify that risk.

Type of Lung Cancer and Heredity

Studies vary in the types of lung cancers that have the greatest hereditary component, but those with nonsmall cell lung cancers, especially lung adenocarcinoma are more likely to have a family history of lung cancer than those with small cell lung cancers.

A recent finding is that non-smokers with non-small cell lung cancer whose tumors have an EGFR mutation are much more likely to have a family history of lung cancer than those who have an ALK or KRAS mutation.

Race, Lung Cancer and Heredity

Blacks with first-degree relatives have a greater risk of early onset lung cancer than whites. This risk increases in smokers.

Other Cancers and Hereditary Lung Cancer

In general, having a family history of cancers other than lung cancer, does not appear to increase the risk that you will develop lung cancer. On the other side of the equation, though, those that develop more than one primary lung cancer are significantly more likely to have a genetic predisposition contributing to their cancer.

What Should I Do if I Have a Family History of Lung Cancer?

CT screening for lung cancer is an option for some people, although it's currently only recommended for those people between the ages of 55 and 74, who smoke or have quit in the past 15 years, and have at least a 30 pack-year history of smoking. Depending upon your risk factors, you and your doctor may elect to choose screening outside of these parameters. Before we despair about those genes passed on to us by Mom and Dad, we need to keep in mind that many causes of lung cancer are preventable. Quitting smoking (if you smoke), testing your home for radon, eating a healthy diet, exercising and being careful to avoid occupational causes can all help lower your risk of developing lung cancer whether you have a family history or not.


Albright, F. et al. Significant evidence for a heritable contribution to cancer predisposition: a review of cancer familiality by site. BMC Cancer. 2012. 12(1):138.

Cote, M. et al. Increased risk of lung cancer in individuals with a family history of the disease: A pooled analysis from the International Lung Cancer Consortium. European Journal of Cancer. 2012 Mar 19. (Epub ahead of print).

Cote, M. et al. Risk of lung cancer among white and black relatives of individuals with early-onset lung cancer. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2005. 293(24):3036-42.

Gaughan, E. et al. Family history of lung cancer in never smokers with non-small-cell lung cancer and its association with tumors harboring EGFR mutations. Lung Cancer. 2013. 79(3):193-7.

Hemminki, K., and X. Lix. Familial risk for lung cancer by histology and age of onset: evidence for recessive inheritance. Experimental Lung Research. 2005. 205-15.

Jonsson, S. et al. Familial risk of lung cancer in the Icelandic population. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2004. 292(24):2977-83.

Lix, X., and K. Hemminki. Familial multiple primary lung cancers: a population-based analysis from Sweden. Lung Cancer. 2005. 47(3):301-7.

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Nitadori, J. et al. Association between lung cancer incidence and family history of cancer: data from a large-scale population-based cohort study, the JPHC study. Chest. 2006. 130(4):936-7.

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