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Why Do Healthy Nonsmokers Get Lung Cancer?

November 08, 2016

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Among the general public, there is a fairly common misconception that only smokers can get lung cancer. While the likelihood of a nonsmoker developing lung cancer is much lower than that of a similarly situated smoker, studies show that the number of lung cancer diagnoses in people who have never smoked is steadily on the rise.

Despite this, lung cancer continues to carry the stigma of being associated with smoking. For this reason, early signs of the condition are sometimes overlooked in nonsmoking individuals. Another troubling effect is that, in the mind of an uninformed person, an individual who develops lung cancer is entirely at fault and has no one to blame but him- or herself. As a result, lung cancer does not receive the same level of funding, support, attention or public sympathy that is devoted to other types of cancer, such as breast, prostate, colon and pancreatic cancer.

Of course, no one – regardless of whether they are a smoker or nonsmoker – deserves to get lung cancer. While smoking is directly linked to the majority of cases, scientists do not yet fully understand what causes the disease to occur in nonsmokers. Some research points to a genetic susceptibility combined with exposure to certain carcinogens (cancer-causing substances), such as asbestos, radon (a gas that occurs naturally in the environment), solvents, diesel exhaust fumes and secondhand tobacco smoke. Other risk factors are radiation treatment to the chest for the treatment of other conditions, such as breast cancer, and lung scarring that resulted from a previous medical condition.

At Moffitt Cancer Center, our nationally renowned research team is working hard to expand our knowledge and understanding of why some healthy people who have never smoked ultimately develop lung cancer. In recognition of our progress to date, Moffitt’s lung cancer research program has been awarded multiple grants by the National Cancer Institute. Moffitt has also earned the prestigious designation of Comprehensive Cancer Center from the National Cancer Institute. Our mission is to better the lives of everyone who is affected by lung cancer, both now and in the future.

If you have concerns about lung cancer – whether or not you smoke – you can turn to the Lung Cancer Alliance Screening Center of Excellence at Moffitt Cancer Center to get the information and answers you need and deserve. Our team also provides second opinions for individuals who have already been diagnosed with lung cancer. No referral is required to meet with our expert oncologists. To request an appointment, call 1-888-MOFFITT or complete a new patient registration form online.