Arsenic, asbestos and radon: emerging players in lung tumorigenesis

Environ Health. 2012 Nov 22;11:89. doi: 10.1186/1476-069X-11-89.


The cause of lung cancer is generally attributed to tobacco smoking. However lung cancer in never smokers accounts for 10 to 25% of all lung cancer cases. Arsenic, asbestos and radon are three prominent non-tobacco carcinogens strongly associated with lung cancer. Exposure to these agents can lead to genetic and epigenetic alterations in tumor genomes, impacting genes and pathways involved in lung cancer development. Moreover, these agents not only exhibit unique mechanisms in causing genomic alterations, but also exert deleterious effects through common mechanisms, such as oxidative stress, commonly associated with carcinogenesis. This article provides a comprehensive review of arsenic, asbestos, and radon induced molecular mechanisms responsible for the generation of genetic and epigenetic alterations in lung cancer. A better understanding of the mode of action of these carcinogens will facilitate the prevention and management of lung cancer related to such environmental hazards.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arsenic / toxicity*
  • Asbestos / toxicity*
  • Carcinogens, Environmental / toxicity*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Environmental Exposure / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Radon


  • Carcinogens, Environmental
  • Asbestos
  • Arsenic
  • Radon