Lung cancer (LC) has traditionally been considered a smoker’s disease. That is, the illness’s impact is thought to be reserved to those who habitually smoke. To be sure, of the nearly 180,000 cases that are diagnosed each year, most are attributed to the use of cigarettes.
Having said that, it is estimated that up to 15% of diagnosed cases occur in those who do not smoke. In this article, we’ll explore the issue of non-smokers suffering from lung cancer. We’ll explain the reasons it can happen and potential risk factors that make some people more susceptible than others.
Reasons The Disease Impacts Non-Smokers
Among all of the factors that contribute to non-smokers developing the disease, secondhand smoke is the most common. According to Cancer.gov, nearly 38,000 people die each year from secondhand smoke. Cigarette smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals. Being exposed to these chemicals over an extended period of time can lead to the development of tumors.
Another potential cause of LC in those who do not smoke is prolonged exposure to radon gas. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists radon gas as the second leading cause (after smoking) of the growth of cancerous cells. The EPA further estimates that one in fifteen homes in the U.S. contain dangerous levels of radon gas.
Exposure to asbestos fibers can also cause the disorder. Decades ago, asbestos was used liberally in the insulation within homes and buildings. The fibers can penetrate the lungs and remain there for a lifetime. It is estimated that those who work with asbestos and do not smoke are five times more likely to suffer lung cancer than nonsmokers.
Other Potential Risk Factors
Besides smoking, passive smoking (i.e. long-term exposure to secondhand smoke), radon gas, and asbestos fibers, non-smokers can also be predisposed to developing lung cancer. For example, researchers suspect there is a particular gene within chromosome number 6 that increases a patient’s susceptibility to the disease. Ethnicity and family history are also thought to play a role.
If you suspect you have LC, see your doctor immediately. It is important to diagnose and treat the disease before the cancerous cells have metastasized to other parts of your body.
Your doctor will take X-rays of your chest to identify areas in which cancerous cells may exist. He or she may also order a computerized tomography (CT) scan to examine suspect areas in more detail. An MRI may be done to help identify the location of tumors once lung cancer has been diagnosed. Bone scans can also be performed to determine the extent of metastasis.
The next step is to stage the disease. It is through staging that your physician will determine how far the cancer has advanced and the appropriate form of treatment. He or she will then recommend a treatment program that might include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. The sooner treatment begins, the higher likelihood for survival.