If you’re a smoker, you probably already know you need to quit so you can reduce the likelihood of developing lung cancer. But for non-smokers, it may come as a surprise that smoking isn’t the only cause of lung cancer. People receiving a lung cancer diagnosis who have never smoked before account for between 10 and 20% of all lung cancer cases! That’s why it’s important to know about risk factors that can increase the risk of developing this disease.
1. Radon Exposure is Associated with Lung Cancer
This chemical is a naturally-occurring gas produced by the radioactive decay of the element radium. Most radon exposure happens inside homes, schools, and workplaces, but you would never know it because it has no odor. Over time, inhaling this gas can cause lung cancer. Test your home for radon or install a radon mitigation system if tests show that you have high levels of radon in your home or workplace. Data from the Oregon Health Authority indicates that areas around the Willamette Valley are at moderate risk of radon exposure. Learn how to test for radon and what to do to lower your exposure.
2. Lung Cancer-Causing Agents
Breathing or consuming cancer-causing agents like benzene and asbestos can cause lung cancer. When exposed to these carcinogens regularly, they can eventually build up inside your lungs, causing the cells to mutate and form cancer. They can also remain in your system for some time after exposure, so make sure to do what you can to avoid contact with these harmful substances.
3. Air Pollution
Exposure to high levels of air pollution may cause lung cancer by triggering DNA damage, leading to tumor growth. The risk of developing lung cancer increases the longer you are around high levels of air pollution, so it's important to take precautions to minimize exposure.
While we live in the Willamette Valley or on the coast to avoid pollution from larger metropolises as much as possible, you may still have been exposed to various toxins more than you realize. Think back to where you've lived, what type of work you've done, or even hobbies you've enjoyed as you consider whether a symptom could potentially be related to lung cancer.
4. Secondhand Smoke Can Lead to Lung Cancer
You have a greater risk of developing lung cancer the more exposure you have to secondhand smoke. If you live with someone who smokes, consider talking with your partner or roommate about smoking less indoors or possibly quitting altogether. If you visit friends and family members who smoke, consider taking those visits outside as often as possible to minimize smoke contact.
The chemicals from cigarettes leave a residue that stays on your clothes, bedding, upholstery, and other areas in the house that go into the lungs of the non-smoker. This can lead to lung cancer.
5. Genetic Mutations Related to Lung Cancer
Lung cancer most often develops as a result of somatic mutations, or mutations that cannot be passed down through the family. Instead, these genetic changes are acquired during a person's lifetime and are present only in certain cells in the lung. Somatic mutations in the TP53, EGFR, and KRAS genes are common in lung cancers. While some of these mutations are related to smoking, not all of them are.
Sometimes, lung cancer cases have no apparent cause. Understanding the likely causes of lung cancer can help you make informed decisions about reducing your risk.
Lung Cancer Screening
Over the past decade, lung cancer screening has become more readily available, serving as a great tool that helps detect and diagnose small cell and non-small cell lung cancer at an earlier stage when it's easier to treat. Screening is typically only offered to people with a smoking history. If you think you might be at a high risk of developing lung cancer based on the factors listed above, speak with your doctor to see if you are eligible for screening. The procedure is a low-dose chest CT scan to check for any areas of concern in the lungs.
Lowering Your Risk of Developing Lung Cancer
While there is no guarantee you won’t develop lung cancer or any other type of cancer, there are ways you can reduce your risk. These include making healthy lifestyle choices, maintaining a healthy weight, monitoring your home for radon, and avoiding secondhand smoke or other cancer-causing chemicals that could be inhaled as much as possible.
Lung Cancer Symptoms Among People Who Never Smoked
If you’re a non-smoker, you might not connect important symptoms — specifically, coughing and shortness of breath — to possibly being lung cancer. These two common symptoms of lung cancer in non-smokers are usually caused by a condition called pulmonary fibrosis, where scar tissue forms on and around your lungs. If you have no other symptoms such as a fever or congestion accompanying these symptoms, there’s a chance it’s not caused by a virus like the flu or coronavirus and should be checked out by a lung specialist called a pulmonologist.
It's common for doctors to perform a CT scan, a chest X-ray, and lab tests when experiencing symptoms that last for more than a few weeks. These tests determine if any area of the lung needs a biopsy or if there is another condition causing the symptoms.
Lung Cancer Care in Willamette Valley
If you are newly diagnosed with lung cancer, treatments are available locally in the Willamette Valley and on the coast. Request an appointment with one of our lung cancer specialists. We are ready to talk to you about your lung cancer and your personalized treatment options. Second opinions are also available to ensure you are entirely comfortable with your diagnosis and the recommended treatment plan. WVCI has a team of experts conveniently located in cities throughout Willamette Valley, including Albany, Corvallis, Eugene, Lincoln City, Newport, and Florence.