Lung cancer rates in non-smokers continue to increase | Causes, Not Just Cases®

Lung cancer is often considered to be only a “smoker’s disease.” The evidence shows, however, that that is wrong. The number of persons with lung cancer who have never smoked has steadily grown for years. One 2015 study reported that the percentage of nonsmokers diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer nearly doubled between 1990 and 2013 from 8.9% to 17%.

Spreading awareness about lung cancer can be a lifesaving measure. After all, some people have had no known risk factors. Education, early detection, and proactive health measures are invaluable. If caught before this cancer spreads, the chance for five-year survival improves dramatically.

Advocacy groups throughout the country recognize November as Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and like them, I believe that education is prevention. It is my hope that by raising awareness, we will make long-overdue strides toward understanding what may be causing this rise in lung cancer – the third most common cancer in the United States – and save lives.

About the 3rd most common cancer in the U.S.

As many as 20% of people who die from lung cancer in the U.S. every year have never smoked or used any form of tobacco. For some people, simply doing their job was enough to elevate their risk of cancer.

For example, the risk of lung cancer among people exposed to asbestos is seven times greater than that of the general population, especially in patients with a significant smoking history. Working with the following materials and products is also especially dangerous:

  • Uranium
  • Arsenic
  • Cadmium
  • Chromium
  • Nickel
  • Some petroleum

Additional risks may include family history and environmental factors.

Cigarettes & E-Cigarettes

The risk of lung cancer increases with the length of time and number of cigarettes a person has smoked. Quitting smoking, even if a person has smoked for years, can significantly reduce the chances of developing the cancer.

People exposed to secondhand cigarette smoke are at an elevated risk of cancer, too. The American Lung Association states that secondhand smoke causes approximately 7,330 lung cancer deaths among nonsmokers every year.

Fairly new to the market are e-cigarettes, such as JUULs and vape pens, that are causing concerns. John Hopkins Medicine states “Cancer is definitely a concern, given that vaping introduces a host of chemicals into the lungs. But vaping products haven’t been around long enough for us to learn whether or not they cause cancer.”.” E-cigarettes contain substances, not limited to but may include:

  • Nicotine
  • Propylene glycol
  • Diacetyl
  • Acrolein
  • Heavy metals

You may read more on the alleged dangers of e-cigarettes in my colleague Tope Leyimu’s blog post, “E-cigs: Blowing (flavored) smoke?

Let’s speak up about lung cancer

For the past few years, I’ve been honored to be included in my local hospital’s Shine a Light on Lung Cancer event that brings together patients, doctors, researchers and other community partners to discuss lung cancer treatments and research. I am also a supporter of the S.C. American Lung Association’s Lip Sync for Lungs Battle (not to boast, but I took first place in 2017). Unfortunately because of the COVID-19 pandemic we could not have either event this year.

I encourage you to be proactive about your health and consider spreading awareness with friends and family. Together, we can continue to make strides toward improving survival rates, research and understanding.

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