You Don’t Have to Be a Smoker to Get Lung Cancer

Saturday, January 15, 2022 – Think you’re safe from lung cancer because you’ve never smoked? Think again.

While cigarette smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, it is possible to get sick without lightening at all.

“Anyone with two lungs can develop lung cancer,” said Dr. Misak Heijnitz, Jr., chief of thoracic and medical oncology at the head and neck at Rutgers Cancer Institute, New Jersey in New Brunswick.

In fact, a new study by the US National Cancer Institute reports that 10% of men and 20% of women diagnosed with lung cancer have never used tobacco products. The study indicates the presence of three types of lung cancer in non-smokers.

“What we already know is that lung cancers, although they look similar under a microscope, may develop differently in non-smokers, and this information about molecular differences has really had a huge impact on the way we treat disease with targeted cancer therapies,” Huygens said at Rutgers press release.

Lung cancer in non-smokers results from other known exposures, including radon gas or secondhand smoke. Exposure to asbestos carries a risk of developing mesothelioma, a rare type of cancer that affects the soft tissues that cover the majority of a person’s internal organs.

“Anything we inhale can expose our airways and lungs to harmful agents that may lead to cancer – we haven’t identified all of those things yet,” Hygents said.

For smokers, it is often caused by years of exposure to carcinogens in tobacco smoke. These substances cause multiple genetic changes in the cells that line the lungs.

This new research helps scientists understand how smokers and non-smokers who have never smoked can benefit from treatments such as targeted cancer therapies, Huygentz said.

Based on the molecular features of lung cancer, scientists recently developed several effective treatment options that target its biology, Hygents said. Further progress is expected.

According to Haigentz, non-smokers who are concerned about developing lung cancer can take a number of steps.

Most importantly, do not start smoking. Experts now recommend screening for lung cancer with annual low-dose CT scans for those who have been heavily exposed to smoking, including former smokers. And test your home for radon gas.

“Most importantly, we need to remove the stigma of lung cancer; we understand that there are people who have smoked their whole lives and have never had cancer, and there are people who have never smoked who have developed lung cancer,” Hygents said.


  • Rutgers Cancer Institute, New Jersey, press release, January 1, 2022

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