I Don’t Smoke. Can I Still Get Lung Cancer?

Published on November 07, 2017

I Don’t Smoke. Can I Still Get Lung Cancer?

According to the American Cancer Society, almost 20 percent of people who get lung cancer don’t smoke or use any form of tobacco. They’re staying away from the leading cause but they’re still getting lung cancer. So what’s the problem? How does someone decrease their chances of getting lung cancer, besides staying away from tobacco?

There are many different non-tobacco factors that can contribute to someone’s chances of getting lung cancer - many of them being environmental.

  • Air pollution: Although in the US our risk of lung cancer associated with air pollution is much lower than other countries, both indoor and outdoor air pollution can contribute to lung cancer.
  • Cancer causing agents at work: There are certain materials like asbestos, carcinogens and diesel exhaust that are known to cause lung cancer. For people who work around these agents, it is important to limit exposure.
  • Radon gas: This is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. Radon occurs naturally outdoors in typically small, harmless amounts. It is possible, however, for it to become concentrated in houses that are built on soil with natural uranium deposits. For people who have lived in these houses for many years, their risk of getting lung cancer goes up. Radon cannot be seen or smelled, so the only way to know if it is present is by testing for it. These tests are typically easy and inexpensive.
  • Secondhand smoke: Over the past several years many laws have banned smoking in public places. This has helped reduce the danger of lung cancer by secondhand smoke.

If someone does get non-smokers lung cancer, what does that normally look like? Here are some quick facts.

  • Adenocarcinoma – This is the most common type of lung cancer seen in nonsmokers. It is more common in women than men.
  • Many people confuse symptoms of lung cancer for other health issues, often delaying the process of getting screened.
  • Symptoms of lung cancer don’t typically show until it is in advanced stages.
  • Some symptoms include an ongoing cough, coughing up blood, shortness of breath, chronic pneumonia or bronchitis. Talk to your primary care provider if you have any of these symptoms
  • To describe the stages of lung cancer, the tumor, nodes and metastasized (TNM) system is most frequently used.
    • Tumor stands for the size of the tumor. Nodes refer to whether or not the tumor has spread to nearby areas. Metastasized describes is if the cancer has spread to other organs of the body. Stage I is the earliest stage of lung cancer and stage IV, the most advanced

"As with anything, it is important to maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly and pay attention to different signs, symptoms and changes within your body," says Timothy Cox, MD, of Bronson Oncology & Hematology Specialists. Along with not using tobacco, being aware of the risk factors can also help decrease your chances of getting lung cancer.

High-Quality Cancer Care Close to Home

If you receive a cancer diagnosis, trust southwest Michigan’s most preferred healthcare system. Bronson Cancer Centers - located in Battle Creek and Kalamazoo - offer a comprehensive approach to care that surrounds with the expertise, technology, resources and positivity that you and your family need for your cancer journey. Learn more about Bronson's regional cancer program, including our nationally-recognized center in Battle Creek, at bronsonhealth.com/cancer.

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