5 myths of lung cancer

Archive, Month, October

Clearing up some misconceptions about lung cancer.

Only life-long smokers are at risk for lung cancer, right?


Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. Every year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined.

According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women, making up almost 25 percent of all cancer deaths. About 80 percent of lung cancer deaths are thought to result from smoking.

Despite its worldwide prevalence and devastating effects, lung cancer is one of the most preventable cancers.

To understand how we can fight it, we must know the truth about this disease. There are many myths about lung cancer. Below are some common misconceptions and the facts you should know.

Myth 1: If I don’t smoke, I don’t have to worry about lung cancer

Lung cancer occurs in both smokers and nonsmokers. Each year, as many as 20 percent of those who die from lung cancer have never smoked.

Environmental exposure to radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas, is the leading risk factor for lung cancer among nonsmokers.

Additionally, people who regularly work with asbestos are at a higher risk of getting lung cancer.

Myth 2: Lung cancer cannot be detected early

What makes lung cancer such a deadly disease is that the majority of patients are diagnosed in the latter stages, often after the cancer has spread to other organs. However, when detected early, lung cancer patients have more treatment options and a far greater chance of survival.

The best way to find lung cancer in its earlier stages is through regular low-dose CT lung screenings to image the lungs. An individual might be a candidate for a lung screening if he or she:

  • Is between the ages of 50 and 80
  • Has no signs or symptoms of lung cancer
  • Is a former heavy smoker who has quit within the past 15 years
  • Is still smoking, and has a 20+ pack-year tobacco smoking history (pack-years formula: number of years smoked x average number of packs per day = pack years)
  • Has not had a chest CT in the past 12 months

Myth 3: Lung cancer only occurs in older people

Lung cancer is typically diagnosed at or above age 65; however, it can affect anyone of any age. Although less common, lung cancer in young adults requires more extensive, aggressive and advanced forms of treatment.

Myth 4: Vaping is safe for my lungs

People who vape have a higher risk of developing lung cancer than those who have never smoked or vaped.

The chemicals in the steam inhaled while vaping can contain harmful and addictive substances, such as nicotine; heavy metals such as nickel, tin and lead; flavoring such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease; and cancer-causing agents. It damages the DNA of the lung cells, often leading to acute, chronic inflammation of the lungs.

Myth 5: If I’ve been diagnosed with lung cancer, I can continue smoking

Quitting smoking is even more important after a cancer diagnosis. Stopping tobacco use can increase the likelihood of a better chance for success, fewer side effects and a faster recovery from treatment.

Smokers have an increased rate of side effects from chemotherapy and radiation; these include fatigue, heart and lung problems or infection.

Smoking also increases the chance of recurrence and increases the risk for a second cancer.