Uncommon Facts

Uncommon Lung Cancer Facts

NOTE: If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with lung cancer, these harsh facts are all too common. We share these facts for the uninitiated who want to be enlighten about this disease.

Stop and take a deep breath 

Former smokers. Smoking is the #1 risk factor for developing lung cancer; however, half of new diagnoses are in former smokers, the majority of whom quit more than a decade before their diagnosis. This population group is often unaware of their elevated risk of developing lung cancer. Also, approximately 38,500 people—or 15 percent of new lung cancer diagnoses—are in people who never smoked.

Radon exposure. Radon is the #2 cause of lung cancer. And in people who never smoked, radon is the #1 cause of lung cancer. Radon is an odorless, invisible, naturally-occurring radioactive gas that gets trapped in our homes. Each year, 20,000 Americans die from radon-induced lung cancer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. More Americans will die from radon-induced lung cancer than from drunk driving, home fires, home falls or AIDS. There is an easy, inexpensive method to test your home for radon. If a radon problem is found, it is relatively easy and inexpensive to fix to protect your family.

Family history of lung cancer. Researchers have discovered evidence of a possible inherited component for lung cancer. The findings suggest that exposure to even a small amount of smoke or radon may lead to lung cancer in people with this inherited susceptibility.

Veterans. U.S. military veterans have significantly higher lung cancer incidence rates and mortality rates than civilian population.
African-American males. This population segment has a significantly higher risk for developing lung cancer and dying from the disease compared with Caucasian males with similar smoking history.

Marijuana smokers. Some studies show that cannabis smoking may have a greater potential than tobacco smoking to cause lung cancer. One marijuana joint may carry the carcinogens of a full pack of cigarettes, according to one study. Marijuana smokers inhale more deeply and hold the smoke in their lungs longer than tobacco smokers, possibly explaining the increased risk.

Nonsmoking women. One in five women and one in 12 men diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked. Women with lung cancer who have never smoked outnumber their male counterparts three to one.

BAC. Women of Asian descent are disproportionately diagnosed with a particular type of lung cancer known as bronchioloalveolar carcinoma (BAC). This type of lung cancer is also often found in people who never smoked.

Survival rate. The 5-year survival rate for lung cancer is approximately 17 percent. To put that in perspective, consider the survival rates for breast cancer (89 percent), prostate cancer (99 percent) and colon cancer (65 percent.)

Screening. Lung cancer screening saves lives! After decades of no screening protocols for lung cancer, finally, lung cancer screening is recommended for those considered at high risk. Annual low-dose CT scans for this population group is extremely important because without early detection the mortality rate is very high. Those considered high risk are between the ages of 55 and 80 with a smoking history of 30 pack years. (Pack years are calculated by multiplying the packs of cigarettes smoked by the number of years smoked. Two packs a day for 15 years equals 30 pack years.) Most insurance companies, including Medicare, cover the cost of screening with no co pay. However, while screening practices for other major cancers, including breast and colon and others, lung cancer screening is behind the curve. Many medical providers are still scrambling to get their screening program underway. Moreover, since anyone can get lung cancer, we look with look forward to one day when a safe, affordable screening method is accessible to everyone.

Public enemy #1. Lung cancer is the #1 cancer killer. It kills more than breast, colon, prostate and pancreatic cancers—combined. Lung cancer kills nearly twice as many women as breast cancer and three times as many men as prostate cancer. This year, approximately 220,000 Americans will be diagnosed with lung cancer and 160,000 will die from the disease.

Stigma. People diagnosed with lung cancer feel stigmatized whether or not they smoked. Researchers found that patients’ interaction with family, friends and doctors suffered as a result. The stigma contributed to patients concealing their illness and living with heightened fear and anxiety.

Research disparity. Lung cancer stigma has created a culture of disparity for lung cancer research. Although lung cancer is the Number 1 cancer killer, it is the least funded of all other major cancers in terms of federal research dollars. (See Chart.) Federal agencies supporting medical research allocated $27,480 per death for breast cancer research, $14,336 per death for prostate cancer and $1,249 per lung cancer death. However, thanks to the efforts of advocates, research funding for lung cancer is on the rise, including private funding from leading nonprofits such as LUNGevity, the Bonnie Addario Lung Cancer Foundation, and others. Federal funding is expected to increase, as well, as a result of the Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act.


Why Only Some Former Smokers Develop Lung Cancer,” Science Daily, November 21, 2008

Many Lung Cancer Patients Stopped Smoking Years Before Diagnosis,” Norra MacReady, Medscape Medical News, July 14, 2010

A Citizen’s Guide to Radon: Risk of Living with Radon,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Location of Potential Familial Lung Cancer Gene Discovered” National Cancer Institute, September 2004

Lung Cancer As It Affects Veterans And Military,” Lung Cancer Alliance, Special Focus on Veterans

Too Many Cases, Too Many Deaths: Lung Cancer in African Americans,” William P. Hicks, MD, American Lung Association, Disparities in Lung Health Series Report, May 2010

Marijuana and lung cancer: Cannabis use and risk of lung cancer: a case–control study,” S. Aldington, et al. European Respiratory Journal, Aug. 21, 2007

Out of the Shadows: Women and Lung Cancer,” Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, May 2010

Bronchioloalveolar Carcinoma: A Review of Current Concepts and Evolving Issues,” Samuel A. Yousem, MD and Mary Beth Beasley, MD, Archives of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine: Vol. 131, No. 7, pp. 1027-1032, Department of Pathology, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, Pa and Department of Pathology, Providence Portland Medical Center, Portland, Ore, 2007

American Cancer Society Lung Cancer Fact Sheet

Out of the Shadows: Women and Lung Cancer,” Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, May 2010

Stigma, shame, and blame experienced by patients with lung cancer: Qualitative study,” British Medical Journal, June 24, 2004

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