Myths about the causes and treatment of lung cancer abound. Some of these are of academic interest only, but others may prevent individuals from seeking proper treatment -- such as a woman who told me she didn’t want potentially curative lung cancer surgery because her tumor would be exposed to air and spread. What is fact, and what is fiction when it comes to lung cancer myths?
Myth #1 - Only Smokers Get Lung Cancer
In fact, the majority of people that develop lung cancer are ex-smokers. Ten percent of people overall, and 20% of women with lung cancer are lifelong non-smokers.
Myth #2 - More Women Die From Breast Cancer Than From Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is an equal opportunity disease. Nearly half of lung cancer cases occur in women, and more women die from lung cancer than any other form of cancer. In 2005 (the most recent year where statistics are available), 69,078 women died from lung cancer, whereas 41,116 died from breast cancer.
Myth #3 - There is Nothing I Can Do to Lower My Risk of Lung Cancer
Certainly avoiding smoking can lower your risk of developing lung cancer, but an awareness of other factors that may raise or lower your risk is helpful as well. Some environmental exposures such as radon can raise your risk, and occupational exposures account for 13% to 29% of lung cancers in men. On the bright side, a healthy diet and exercise appear to lower risk.
Myth #4 - Lung Cancer Rates Are Declining Now That Fewer People Smoke
This can be true or false depending on your gender. From 1991 to 2005, lung cancer rates decreased 1.8% per year among men, but increased 0.5% per year among women.
Myth #5 - Living in a Polluted City is a Greater Risk Than Smoking
Being exposed to diesel exhaust and air pollution does raise the risk of lung cancer; however, the risk is small in comparison to smoking.
Myth #6 - If I Already Have Lung Cancer, it Doesn't Pay to Quit Smoking
There are several reasons to quit smoking after a diagnosis of lung cancer. Kicking the habit can raise the success rate of surgery, makes treatment more effective, and lowers your risk of dying from causes other than lung cancer.