Lung cancer isn't just a smoker's disease

Lung cancer kills more men and women than any other kind of cancer - more, even, than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined - yet it carries with it a stigma that sufferers bring it on themselves. Lung cancer is not just a smoker's disease - nonsmokers can get it, too.

November is National Lung Cancer Awareness month, and a good time to reevaluate how we perceive this particular kind of cancer. Lung cancer is a devastating disease, yet in terms of awareness and research, it often can be overshadowed by other higher profile cancers. Historically, it receives the fewest research dollars, in spite of the fact that among cancers, it's the deadliest.

The American Cancer Society anticipates that lung cancer will claim the lives of nearly 157,000 individuals this year. Smoking continues to be the greatest risk factor for developing lung cancer - and quitting at any age can significantly reduce your risk. But there are other risk factors as well. You are at greater risk for lung cancer if you:

  • Are exposed to secondhand smoke
  • Are exposed to radon gas
  • Are exposed to asbestos and other chemicals
  • Have a family history of lung cancer
  • Drink more than what is considered moderate amounts of alcohol - for men, no more than two drinks daily, and for women, no more than one daily drink
  • Suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD

In addition, men are more likely than women to develop lung cancer, whether or not they smoke, according to the American Cancer Society, and African American men are 40 percent more likely to develop lung cancer than Caucasian men. Your risk increases with age, too; about two of three people diagnosed with lung cancer are 65 or older; the average age at diagnosis is 71.

If you or someone you know has lung cancer or is at risk for developing it, we encourage you to talk to your health care provider about your concerns.