Lung Cancer: the Silent Killer

Lung Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in one or both lungs. (lungcancer.org) Normally, it is caused by the use of tobacco. People have promoted the Say No to Smoking campaign for years. These campaigns would warn smokers about the dangers of smoking and remind people that smoking leads to lung cancer. While the dangers of smoking are very real and life-threatening, a rising concern is the increasing number of lung cancer patients who have never smoked. For every action, there is a reaction, and for every cause, there is an effect. When a person chooses to smoke, it causes life-threatening effect for themselves as well as others. But what about people who do not choose to smoke and are left with these effects? The number of deaths from lung cancer are growing rapidly due to secondhand smoke, harsh air pollution, and problems in the EGFR gene which in turn, means bad stigma for lung cancer patients, non-smokers fighting a battle they never asked for, and a higher number of women being diagnosed.

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The first very real problem is secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke can also be called environmental tobacco smoke or ETS. Compared to someone who actually smokes, secondhand smoke is taken very lightly. In reality, secondhand smoke can cause just as much damage as smoking a cigarette can. When someone inhales secondhand smoke, they inhale the same chemicals that the smoker does. Naomi Elster explains some recent statistics correlated to secondhand smoke in the following:

Meanwhile, the proportion of lung cancer patients who never have smoked is going up.

One US study reported that 17% of people diagnosed with the most common form of lung cancer in 2011-2013 had never smoked, compared to 8.9% of people diagnosed in 1990-1995. In the UK, researchers reported that the proportion of non-smokers undergoing surgery for lung cancer jumped from 13% to 28% from 2008 to 2014. And in Taiwan, the proportion of never-smoker patients increased from 31% in 1999-2002 to 48% in 2008-2011 (Elster).

There are two forms of secondhand smoke, mainstream and side stream. Mainstream smoke is when someone exhales smoke directly. Sidestream smoke is smoke given off from the burning end of a form of tobacco like cigarettes, cigar, or a pipe. Even accidentally inhaling this smoke, has its own effects. When someone unintentionally inhales this smoke, it is called involuntary smoking or passive smoking. While adults can attempt to avoid this secondhand smoke, children do not typically know any better than to breathe in the air around them. This secondhand smoke can cause weakened immune systems and asthma in developing children. The problem with secondhand smoke patients is that they are seen just like any other lung cancer patient. Majority of people have bad attitudes towards lung cancer patients. Besides bad attitudes from on-lookers, lung cancer patients are more likely to receive poorer treatment from caregivers. Lung cancer patients as a whole, receive bad stigma because lung cancer is assumed to come from smoking. Bad stigma is when something is associated as negative. In this situation, people automatically assume the worst when it comes to lung cancer. This stigma can lead to depression in patients which, in turn, lowers the chance of survival. Most people don’t pity these patients and use the line they did it to themselves which in this case, is far from the truth. Because of this stigma, lung cancer receives less awareness and funding that could be used for research. Since second-hand smoke stems from people who smoke, these smokers are ultimately the reason for the growing number of deaths in second-hand smoke patients.

Another underlying factor is the harsh air pollution that people breathe in every day. While this is the less threatening than second-hand smoke, it is more common. In 2010, 223,000 people died from lung cancer that resulted from breathing in these carcinogens in the air. In the United States, it is more common for men to work in factories and environments with these harsh conditions rather than women. This air pollution can be of more danger in industrial or agricultural jobs, or even cooking or heating inside homes. Many workplaces leave their employees exposed to chemicals such as radon, asbestos, and even the chemicals found in diesel exhaust. Vehicular pollution is the most common. This harsh air pollution can be naturally made or man-made. Examples of man-made would be car fumes or the smoke from burning fuels such as coal. Air pollution can be divided into two categories, indoor and outdoor. Out of the two, outdoor air pollution was more responsible for lung cancer cases than indoor. The problem with harsh air pollution is that it is not always avoidable. No one can stay inside forever, so at some point they have to breathe in the air around them, especially if they work in these conditions. An effect of all of these things is that people end up having to fight a battle against lung cancer they never asked for. These people not only have to deal with lung cancer but also with all the side effects and treatments from it when they have never even smoked. The United States could lower the number of lung cancer cases caused by harsh air pollution if they would first take charge of the way people operate in the environment each day.

Why non-smoking women are more likely to develop lung cancer than non-smoking men is the new question that is raised. Even though more men smoke cigarettes than women, women are still responsible for almost half of recent lung cancer cases. And while the rate of men dying to cancer has decreased since 1990, the rate of women’s deaths has increased. New research has discovered flukes in the EGFR gene. Though the gene itself does not actually cause lung cancer, it makes women more receptible to lung cancer. EGFR stands for epidermal growth factor receptor and is a protein targeted in lung cancer. These mutated genes can be inherited or stimulated by the amount of tobacco a person is exposed to. Small cell lung cancer is one of the most common in women, as well as one of the most aggressive. It generally shows up without many signs or symptoms. Adenocarcinoma is the most common. It usually moves very quickly to other parts of the body. Both of these cancers are associated with the EGFR and are very aggressive. Consequently, there are multiple other genes being studied because of their connection to lung cancer in women. The central theme within all of these genes is the amount of estrogen exposure a woman has. Research has shown that in the lab, estrogen encourages the growth of tumor cells and that treatments that block estrogen can help suppress cancer cell growth. (Galan) More research is still taking place with trial drugs to try and learn more about this awful cancer and how to prevent it from targeting women more specifically.

Lung Cancer is not fair. It picks and chooses its victims without showing mercy, but people can’t wallow in pity over it. For the number of lung cancer cases to decrease, people need to take action. When secondhand smoke, harsh air pollution and genetic cases like the EGFR gene receive more concern than just a warning about lung cancer, things could start moving in the right directions. These factors are all causes as to why the number of non-smoking lung cancer patients are increasing. The effects are lethal, and these patients are not even the ones picking up the cigarette. If there were consequences for smoking, secondhand smoke would be reduced. If measures were taken for the amount of air pollution that is put out daily, harsh air pollution would decrease. And if more attention was brought to the genetic end of lung cancer, more research would be done to find out how to stop it. Lung Cancer is a very real and growing problem all over the world, but more specifically, America. It is going to take much more than just a warning about smoking to reduce its number of victims.

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Lung Cancer: The Silent Killer. (2019, Nov 27). Retrieved December 6, 2022 , from
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