Can Non-Smokers Get Lung Cancer?

It’s fairly well-known that smoking is linked to the development of lung cancer. But is it the only factor? Are people who are diagnosed with lung cancer but claim not to smoke lying? Or are non-smokers also at risk? Find out the truth about the relationship between smoking cigarettes and having lung cancer—the numbers may surprise you.

  • First of all, non-smokers can and do develop lung cancer. It’s simply that cigarette smokers face a much higher risk—not the only risk. It’s quite likely you know someone with lung cancer—perhaps even someone who’s never smoked before.
  • In fact, smokers are at a risk about 10 to 20 times higher than that of non-smokers.
  • About 3,000 non-smokers die every year from lung cancer caused by secondhand smoke. Studies show that living with a smoker increases a non-smoker’s risk of cancer by between 20 and 30 percent.
  • Over 60% of new cases of lung cancer develop in non-smokers.
  • This number includes both former smokers—who’ve often been tobacco-free for many years or decades—and those who have never smoked in their lives.
  • This means that less than 40% of new lung cancer cases occur in smokers.
  • 1 out of every 5 women and 1 in every 12 men who are diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked before.
  • Secondhand smoke is not the only cause of lung cancer in non-smokers, however.
  • About 15% of cases of lung cancer in men, and about 50% in women, are not linked to smoking.
  • There are environmental hazards that put people in danger of acquiring lung cancer.
  • Asbestos can cause not only mesothelioma but also lung cancer. This risk is particularly notable when combined with smoking, but can occur in non-smokers, too.
  • Asbestos workers who don’t smoke still have a risk 5 times greater than other non-smokers for developing lung cancer.
  • Radon causes about 21,000 fatal cases of lung cancer every year. It poses the biggest risk of lung cancer development for non-smokers—more than secondhand smoke.
  • Arsenic can also be a cause of lung cancer, but ironically, it is also used in cancer treatment, as it is capable of killing cancer cells.
  • About 2,000 lung cancer fatalities every year can be traced at least partially to air pollution. It’s believed that long-term exposure to polluted air puts non-smokers at a risk nearly equal to those of “passive” smokers, or light smokers.
  • Keeping our air clean is therefore important not just for our planet, but for our lungs.
  • Smoking does substantially increase the risk of lung cancer when combined with these outside factors, but once again, non-smokers also face the risk.

Many states have laws in place against smoking in public places, shared housing or near the doors of buildings. This helps reduce the amount of secondhand smoke exposure for employees and patrons, but exposure is certainly still possible. Additionally, pollution outdoors and arsenic, asbestos and radon in homes and businesses pose a further risk. Consider having your home tested for these contaminants to protect yourself and your family.