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5 Myths of Lung Cancer

Myth 1: Only smokers develop lung cancer.

While smokers have a much higher risk of developing lung cancer(LUNG CAN-SIR) — Abnormal growth that originates from lung tissue, many other factors can influence a person’s risk. For example, you don’t have to smoke yourself to be harmed by the effects of smoke. Additionally, there are environmental factors, like exposure to high levels of radon, that can play a role.1

Radon is an odorless gas is found in all air. However, areas at lower elevation levels with poor ventilation (like underground mines2 or basements in many parts of the country) can have much higher levels, increasing the risk of lung cancer. You do have to be exposed to the radon in an unventilated area for many hours a day to really be at risk for lung cancer. And the good news is ventilation to these areas will remove the problem.

These are just two factors that can increase the risk of lung cancer. There are many more. In fact, 10-15% who develop lung cancer have never smoked themselves.3

Myth 2: There is no screening for lung cancer.

Did you know there is screening(SKREE-NING) — Using a test to find a specific disease or condition at an early point in the course of a disease for lung cancer just like there is screening for breast cancer(BRE-ST CAN-SIR) — An abnormal growth that originates from breast tissue and colon cancer(COOL-IN CAN-SIR) — Abnormal growth that originates from colon tissue? Unlike some other screening tests(SKREE-NING TESTS) — Procedures used to discover a disease at an early stage, lung cancer screening recommendations are based on risk. Individuals between the age of 55 and 80 who have smoked more the one pack per day for 30 years or more and are current smokers or quit within the last 15 years are recommended to have lung cancer screening.4 The most common lung cancer screening is a CT scan(C-T SCAN) — An imaging technique that uses x-rays to see the inside of the body.


Myth 3: Breast cancer is the leading cancer-related cause of death for women.

While breast cancer might be the most common cancers in women, more women die of lung cancer. In 2018, 70,500 women are estimated to die from lung cancer, compared to 40,920 from breast cancer.5,6 Furthermore, lung cancer is the leading cause of death in both men and women. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined.

Myth 4: I quit smoking on my first try.

Most smokers don’t quit on their first try—less than 30% of ex-smokers are successful on the first try.7 There are many reasons why people are unable to quit, and most need to try many times with the help of counseling or medication. Here is a good way to start trying: set a date to quit, and if you start smoking again, set another date. Ask your family and doctor for help in quitting and keep trying. Remember, once you have quit, never smoke one again.

Myth 5: Air made the lung cancer spread.

A common misconception is that exposing the lung cancer to air during surgery(SIR-JER-REE) — Physical removal of a tumor causes it to grow. This is because many times during surgery it is discovered that cancer has spread farther than previously seen on imaging tests.

But if the air and surgery didn’t cause it to grow, what did? Nothing. The cancer had already spread that far. However, the imaging tests were not able to see it. Sometimes the only way to know how far lung cancer has spread is for a human to see with their eyes. And during surgery, a surgeon does just that.

  1. Alberg AJ, Samet JM. Epidemiology of Lung Cancer*. Chest. 2003;123(1). doi:10.1378/chest.123.1_suppl.21s.
  2. Leuraud K, Schnelzer M, Tomasek L, et al. Radon, Smoking and Lung Cancer Risk: Results of a Joint Analysis of Three European Case-Control Studies Among Uranium Miners. Radiation Research. 2011;176(3):375-387. doi:10.1667/rr2377.1.
  3. Subramanian J, Govindan R. Lung Cancer in Never Smokers: A Review. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2007;25(5):561-570. doi:10.1200/jco.2006.06.8015.
  4. Reduced Lung-Cancer Mortality with Low-Dose Computed Tomographic Screening. New England Journal of Medicine. 2011;365(5):395-409. doi:10.1056/nejmoa1102873.
  5. How Common Is Breast Cancer? American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/about/how-common-is-breast-cancer.html. Accessed November 12, 2018.
  6. Key Statistics for Lung Cancer. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/non-small-cell-lung-cancer/about/key-statistics.html. Accessed November 12, 2018.
  7. Hughes JR, Solomon LJ, Naud S, Fingar JR, Helzer JE, Callas PW. Natural History of Attempts to Stop Smoking. Nicotine & Tobacco Research. 2014;16(9):1190-1198. doi:10.1093/ntr/ntu052.
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