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Lung Cancer Symptoms in People Who've Never Smoked - And How They Are Different in Smokers

April 08, 2024

Despite smoking being a significant health risk leading to lung cancer, the disease remains a considerable concern for those who have never smoked. While cigarettes remain a dominant contributor, there are also other risk elements such as exposure to environmental toxins like radon gas, second-hand smoke and occupational risks.

Non-smokers — defined as those who've either never smoked or consumed less than 100 cigarettes during their lifetime - are susceptible to disparate forms of lung cancer compared with smokers. With progress in medical research, scientists today possess an expanded knowledge concerning lung cancer in non-smokers, reports the Express US. Experts at Yale Medicine stated that genetic mutations or irregularities usually cause lung cancer in non-smokers.

Dr. Anne Chiang, thoracic medical oncologist at Yale Medicine, said: "We used to think all lung cancers were the same, but now we understand that there are different kinds."

Researchers caution that it's common for non-smokers not to exhibit initial symptoms of lung cancer. This often leads to late detection, after the cancer has already advanced. The Mirror reported that some non-smokers suffering from lung disease may display early-stage symptoms similar to those seen in smokers.

Non-smoker and smoker lung cancers bear significant differences, necessitating identification for effective treatment. With science devising personalised treatments focused on specific molecular alterations associated with non-smoker lung cancer, distinguishing between the two has never been more important.

For instance, a subtype of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) called adenocarcinoma grows slower and presents differently in medical imaging. It's seen more commonly in non-smokers.

Yale Medicine thoracic surgeon Dr. Daniel Boffa said: "If you are a smoker, you can think of your lung as a bag of white marbles and cancer is like putting a black marble in there. The type of cancer a non-smoker gets is more like putting in black sand. Instead of a spot or a lump, it's more like a hazy area. It's more diffuse."

Advancements in genetic testing have substantially revolutionised the treatment of non-smoker lung cancer. Tests are now available to identify mutations that can assist doctors in prescribing therapies targeted at these detected changes.

Despite the absence of standardised screening methods for non-smokers, it's still imperative to remain vigilant of family history and potential environmental exposures. Scientists constantly emphasise that early detection is key, though it often happens fortuitously while undergoing medical imaging for unrelated conditions.

The usual treatment for lung cancer in non-smokers involves the surgical removal of the affected tissue, followed by targeted therapies or chemotherapy, depending on the stage and aggressiveness of the cancer.

Submitted by Eliza Folsom on April 08, 2024