Open Accessibility Menu

Can Non-Smokers Get Lung Cancer?

  • Category: Cancer
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Baton Rouge General
Can Non-Smokers Get Lung Cancer?

If you hear about someone with lung cancer, you may wonder if they smoke or even assume that they do (or used to in the past). But the truth is that as many as 20% of lung cancers in the U.S. are in people who have never smoked.

Smokers and non-smokers tend to develop different types of lung cancer. Smoking tobacco is the leading risk factor for small cell lung cancer (SCLC), which is responsible for 98% of all SCLC diagnoses. Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), more specifically adenocarcinoma, is slower growing and is the most common cancer among non-smokers. It’s the more common form of lung cancer among young people, and women are more prone than men to develop this cancer.

Non-smokers are more likely to develop lung cancer as a result of a genetic mutation or abnormality that drives the development of cancer, though there are often multiple factors at play including secondhand smoke, radon exposure, air pollution, asbestos and a family history of lung cancer.

For non-smokers, there are typically no early signs or symptoms of lung cancer, which is why it’s often diagnosed at a more advanced stage. Their lung cancer is often found incidentally after having an X-ray or CT scan for another medical reason. If symptoms do present, they are similar to the symptoms a smoker would experience, including a cough that won’t go away, coughing up blood, chest pain, trouble breathing, wheezing, fatigue, weight loss.

Not smoking is your best protection against lung cancer, and for smokers or former smokers, an annual low-dose CT scan is recommended as a screening. For non-smokers, be sure you know if you have a family history. And talk with your doctor about any concerns you have about exposure to secondhand smoke, radon, or other industrial pollutants.