Lung Cancer Info Risks

Researchers explain why there is an increase in never-smokers getting lung cancer – looking at risk factors contributing to the rise and the early symptoms.

For what seemed like forever, smoking and lung cancer appeared to go hand in hand. Now the statistics are showing an unnerving trend: More and more people who have never smoked are developing lung cancer. Why?

If you’ve never smoked a cigarette before, you might assume you’re safe from developing lung cancer. But, according to recent statistics, you’d be wrong.

While smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer, recent research shows the rates of lung cancer in people who have never smoked (aka never-smokers) are steadily climbing.

A study published in January 2017 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found an estimated 10 to 15 percent of lung cancer occurs in never-smokers, and that the incidence of non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC; the most common type) in never-smokers is on the rise, increasing by 8 percent between 1990 and 1995 and by 14 percent between 2011 and 2013.

In fact, as many as 20 percent of people who die from lung cancer each year have never smoked or used any form of tobacco, according to the American Cancer Society.

Women never-smokers are more susceptible than men, according to the statistics: Women who have never smoked have twice the risk of developing lung cancer as men. In fact, a study published in September 2020 in Lung Cancer Management showed that nearly half of women diagnosed with lung cancer worldwide are never-smokers, compared with only about 15 to 20 percent of men.

What’s behind the surge in cases among never-smokers? The explanation is complex, likely due to many factors, and not fully understood, says Andrew Kaufman, MD, a thoracic surgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “We know very little about why this is occurring, and why it seems to be occurring at higher rates now compared with historical time points,” he says.

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