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Non-Smokers and Lung Cancer - What You Need to Know

Can Non -Smokers Develop Lung Cancer?


Updated May 15, 2007

The recent death of Dana Reeve has raised many questions about lung cancer development in those who are non-smokers. Reeve, who never smoked a cigarette died of lung cancer and apparently did not show any symptoms of the disease.

How Common is Lung Cancer in Non- Smokers?

It is estimated that 10-15% of lung cancer cases are diagnosed in people that have never smoked. Unfortunately, most of these patients are women, and it has become increasingly more common for non-smoking women to be diagnosed with lung cancer. Statistics show that 1 out of 5 women diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked, compared to 1 out of 10 men.

How Can Non-Smokers Develop Lung Cancer?

Researchers believe that second hand smoke plays a prominent role in lung cancer development in non-smokers. Limiting first hand and second hand exposure is essential for both men and women to reducing the risk factor for lung cancer.

Lung cancer can develop because of radon inbedded in dirt below residential homes. Tests are available to check the radon level in and around your home. Many of these tests are available free of charge from you local health department.

Estrogen may also be a factor in lung cancer development, just like in breast cancer development in women. Studies suggest that blocking estrogen may prevent lung cancer from growing.

Genetics may also be responsible for lung cancer development. Researchers have found genes that can greatly increase the risk factor for lung cancer development. This finding may explain why people who smoke 3 packs a day may never develop lung cancer, while one who only smokes 5 a day develops it. It may be a matter of who is carrying this gene.

How Can Non-Smokers Find Out if They Are At Risk or May Have Lung Cancer?

Just like smokers, non-smokers may want to discuss their risk with their doctor. Many non-smokers are diagnosed when they visit the doctor for a simple cough or flu symptoms. A chest x-ray or CT scan is done and that is how a lung tumor is most commonly diagnosed.

While some people may not present any symptoms, discussing the risk with a physician is important. Together, a screening or health monitoring and management plan can be created.

About Lung Cancer:

Lung Cancer 101
Lung Cancer Symptoms
Top 5 Ways to Prevent Lung Cancer

Sources: Kentucky Enquirer; Lung Cancer Gene Region Identified , July 25, 2004
American Cancer Society; Lung Cancer Key Statistics

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