If we just use a Chinese-English dictionary, the definition of both “cause” and “lead to” can be 引起, but there is a distinct difference between their uses. As aforementioned, “cause” means to make something happen, especially something negative.
“Lead to,” on the other hand, means to cause something to develop or become possible at a later time.
At first glance, they appear interchangeable, but “cause” is typically used to express how one factor assumes responsibility for its effect(s). “Lead to” is used to express the result of a certain action or event.
A large amount of water inside a building will cause high humidity. -> The relationship is direct and the cause (n.) is likely the only one.
The poor location of the factory may lead to further costs. -> The author is not certain that the poor location will directly result in further costs.
If you want more details, here are the differences:
-cause (v.) has a negative connotation
-when used as a verb in the relation between the cause (n.) (which may be human) and effect (n.), it’s relatively direct and immediate.
lead to 導致，引起
-lead to is not used with a human subject, and does not appear in the passive
-lead to is less direct than cause, implying a series of steps between cause (n.) and effect (n.)