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Lung Cancer in Nonsmokers? It Happens More Often Than You Might Think

Though most lung cancer cases and deaths involve smokers, there is a percentage (10-15 percent) that can be attributed to other causes such as radon and secondhand smoke, leading to the deaths of an estimated 15,000 nonsmoking Americans each year. In fact, if “never smokers” lung cancer was its own class of disease, it would be the sixth-most common cause of cancer deaths.

Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers, followed by secondhand smoke. But even after you factor in these two causes, there is still a significant number of never-smokers who come down with lung cancer.

There seem to be distinguishing characteristics between smokers with lung cancer and never-smokers with lung cancer. A majority of smokers develop squamous cell cancers, which tend to grow near airways and cause symptoms earlier in the process. Never-smokers more often develop adenocarcinomas, which grow in the outer regions of the lungs and don’t display symptoms until after the cancer is much more involved. A third type of lung cancer, bronchoalveolar carcinoma, is on the rise worldwide, especially among young, female nonsmokers.

Currently, lung cancer treatments are the same for smokers as for never-smokers. This methodology is changing with the findings that lung cancer in never-smokers is different from lung cancer in smokers—on a genetic, cellular, and molecular level. Some studies suggest never-smokers respond better to chemotherapy. Certain genetic mutations are more prevalent in the cells of never-smokers; thus, targeted therapies that fixate solely on these mutations may become more common. There may be an inherited component to never-smokers’ lung cancer as well.

Recognizing the fact that lung cancers aren’t all the same bodes well for those who are nonsmokers.

As with any cancer, early detection is the key.  If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with lung cancer and feel that it should have been caught earlier, you should contact an experienced Georgia medical malpractice attorney to discuss your situation.