When we talk about lung cancer, most people assume that sufferers have done something to cause their disease – specifically, that they were smokers. Sure, there might be occasional victims of the disease who were exposed to dangerous environmental triggers that caused the disease, but that knowledge only serves to reinforce the idea that there are very targeted airborne hazards that cause the disease. In reality, though, a substantial percentage of those who develop lung cancer each year are lifelong non-smokers.
Why is it that so many non-smokers come to develop lung cancer? The underlying causes are complex and often work together to create a high degree of risk. These 4 risk factors can all make it more likely that people will develop lung cancer, no smoking required.
Beware The Vape
Vaping was introduced to the public as a less dangerous alternative to smoking, and in particular as an ideal way for smokers to cut their disease risk while addressing their nicotine addiction. In reality, though, as e-cigarettes continue to permeate popular culture, experts have discovered that vaping may actually be more dangerous than smoking. From the perspective of cancer risk, though, vaping does very little to mitigate cancer risk because the vaporized chemicals are carcinogenic and many contain added toxins like formaldehyde and heavy metals. Additionally, supposedly harmless flavorings like cinnamon can cause inflammation of lung cells and increase lung cancer risk.
Genes Meet Environment
Though the stigma associated with lung cancer is an unnecessary attack on people who are already suffering, people are broadly correct to associate smoking with lung cancer; 80% of lung cancers are caused by smoking. That still leaves 20% of sufferers. What happened to those individuals? Most often, it wasn’t any one thing. Rather, most non-smokers develop lung cancer because of combined risk factors including genetic predisposition, exposure to asbestos and other chemicals, breathing in air pollution, and exposure to second hand smoke. Occupational risk factors, such as working around blast furnaces, radiation, or in certain industrial fields, can all increase the risk of lung cancer in non-smokers.
Dietary Risk Factors
Diet plays a key role in many forms of cancer, particularly colon cancer, but there are a few dietary habits that are particularly concerning for those worried about lung cancer. First, higher sugar intake may increase cancer – cancer cells thrive on sugar, and second, grilled meat can carry harmful carcinogens. Exposing meat to the high heat of the grill causes dangerous hydrocarbons to enter the air with the smoke, directly impacting lung health. Just as you don’t want to breathe in other types of smoke because it’s bad for your lungs, breathing in grilling smoke can cause serious damage.
Finally, perhaps one of the least well-known and most hazardous lung cancer causing exposures is radon, a radioactive gas released by decaying uranium. Why are so many people being exposed to uranium? Radon actually leaches into homes through the ground or from the areas around wires and pipes – and it causes 21,000 new lung cancer cases each year. It doesn’t have to, though. Homeowners can actually test for the presence of radon using DIY test kit and then seek remediation services as necessary.
Cigarettes may play the most substantial role in lung cancer risk, but that doesn’t mean that non-smokers don’t need to be concerned. The fact is, anyone can develop lung cancer and it’s important to raise any concerns with your doctor and get regular screenings if you have a family history of the condition. Keep an open line of communication with your doctor and don’t let your non-smoker status prevent you from seeking appropriate care.