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Non-Smokers Not Immune to Lung Cancer


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Non-Smokers Not Immune to Lung Cancer

Can't you just hear it?

Upon learning that someone has lung cancer, what are the first thoughts and words in the average American's mind?

Questions about smoking status? If you said yes, you're probably correct. And given what we know today, smoking may very well have something to do with it.

That said, why do we feel we need to evaluate causation - especially when that evaluation can be painful to the one we've just learned has cancer? We aren't so cruel to those who have breast cancer. We don't first inquire about the number of years a woman with breast cancer nursed her children, and then offer our support. But talking about the stigma of lung cancer is a different issue than the aim of this blog post. Instead, it's important to note that while everyone with lung cancer deserves our care and support regardless of smoking history, there are many people with lung cancer who have never smoked.

Let's start with women. A full 20% of women who develop lung cancer have never smoked. One in five. And adding together never smokers and former smokers, we learn that the majority of women diagnosed with lung cancer today aren't current smokers. Looking at statistics another way, the number of never smoking women who die from lung cancer each year is fairly close to the number of women (smokers or non-smokers) who die from breast cancer each year.

I'm sure many people quickly wonder about second-hand smoke. Yes, secondhand smoke causes around 3,000 lung cancer deaths per year in the United States. But that only accounts for a minority of non-smoking women who develop lung cancer. Causes such as radon exposure are important, as are causes we are likely unaware of.

Unaware of... Yes. At the same time that lung cancer deaths in men are decreasing, and those in women have leveled off, a form of lung cancer often found in young, female non-smokers, bronchioloalveolar carcinoma (BAC), is actually increasing.

Why do I share these statistics?

The first reason I already alluded to. When you run into someone with lung cancer, try to offer your unconditional caring and support rather than asking about smoking status. Yes, smoking status is important, but do we really need more evidence that smoking causes lung cancer - and in this way which can be painful for someone recently diagnosed?

The second reason is funding. The five-year survival rate for breast cancer is 89%. For lung cancer it hovers around 16%. For every 24 federal dollars spent to combat breast cancer, only a single dollar bill is spent on lung cancer research.

I've said it before, but think of it this way. We keep hearing tear-jerking propaganda about our mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends with breast cancer. But we have a lot more mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends left to cope with lung cancer with less support. Don't take me wrong. I have nothing against breast cancer research. I'm alive because of it. But it's time we stand up - especially those of us in pink who have benefitted so greatly - and take notice of the lack of funding and deficit of love and caring for those with lung cancer.



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