Smoking, particularly of cigarettes, is by far the main contributor to lung cancer. Across the developed world, almost 90% of lung cancer deaths are caused by smoking. In the United States, smoking is estimated to account for 87% of lung cancer cases (90% in men and 85% in women). Among male smokers, the lifetime risk of developing lung cancer is 17.2%; among female smokers, the risk is 11.6%. This risk is significantly lower in nonsmokers: 1.3% in men and 1.4% in women. Cigarette smoke contains over 60 known carcinogens, including radioisotopes from the radon decay sequence, nitrosamine, and benzopyrene. Additionally, nicotine appears to depress the immune response to malignant growths in exposed tissue.
The length of time a person smokes (as well as rate of smoking) increases the person's chance of developing lung cancer. If a person stops smoking, this chance steadily decreases as damage to the lungs is repaired and contaminant particles are gradually removed. In addition, there is evidence that lung cancer in never-smokers has a better prognosis than in smokers, and that patients who smoke at the time of diagnosis have shorter survival times than those who have quit.