You Don't Smoke?

Are you a never smoker or someone who quit 30 years ago? Do you realize you can still get lung cancer? All you need to get lung cancer is lungs. Period. A young man in his thirties who never smoked who complained to his doctor for months about not feeling well. He was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Imagine that feeling. How could someone who never smoked get lung cancer?

Lung cancer in young people & non-smokers

The American Cancer Society states that as many as 20% of the people who die from lung cancer in the United States every year have never smoked or used any other form of tobacco. This means that about 30,000 Americans who never smoked died in 2017. In fact, if lung cancer in non-smokers had its own separate category, it would still rank among the top 10 deadliest cancers in the United States.1

70 is the average age in the United States of people diagnosed with lung cancer. In 2013, about 2-3% of the 228,190 people diagnosed with lung cancer were younger than the age of 40.2 These statistics are certainly not to scare you but to help explain that if you are in your 20s or 30s, it can still happen to you.

Screening can save lives

Speak to your health team about lung cancer screening. Doctors will ask at every physical if you examined your breasts, but don't think to discuss or do lung cancer screening. Or they diagnose you with bronchitis or asthma. Be persistent. Ask for a low dose CT scan.

Screening means testing for a disease before there are any symptoms or history of that disease. Screening tests can find lung cancer early before the cancer has spread, when treatment may also work better. The only recommended screening test for lung cancer is low-dose computed tomography (also called a low-dose CT scan or LDCT). In this test, a machine scans the body and uses low doses of radiation to make detailed pictures of the lungs.3

Who should have lung cancer screening?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, lung cancer screening is recommended annually for people who:

  • Have a history of heavy smoking, and
  • Smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years, and
  • Are between the ages of 55 and 803

Heavy smoking is defined as a smoking history of 30 or more pack years. Pack years is a term used to help quantify the equivalent of how many years a patient has smoked. It is calculated by multiplying the number of packs of cigarettes smoked per day by the number of years the person has smoked. For example, smoking one pack per day for one year equals 1 pack year, whereas smoking two packs per day for two years equals 4 pack years.

Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on January 28, 2020, Jennifer Toth passed away. Jennifer was a passionate advocate for the Lung Cancer community. She will be deeply missed.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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