Here’s something many people don’t know: Lung cancer takes more lives every year than colon, breast, and prostate cancer combined, making it the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. “There’s a stigma associated with it because of the link to smoking,” says David Cooke, M.D., head of general thoracic surgery at the University of California, Davis. However, anyone with lungs has some degree of risk. These are common misconceptions about the disease, and the facts that can protect your health.
MYTH: Only people who smoke get lung cancer.
Smoking is certainly the biggest risk factor. However, up to 20% of Americans who pass away from lung cancer never smoked. There could be underlying genetic factors that determine if someone is susceptible, and secondhand smoke can increase a nonsmoker’s risk of lung cancer by up to 30%. Experts are now even investigating the risk of “thirdhand smoke”—toxic residue from smoking that can build up on walls and furniture and in carpets and that may become airborne and stick around for months or even years. (As a precaution, thoroughly clean items ever exposed to smoke.)
MYTH: It always starts with a cough.
Actually, adenocarcinoma, a type of cancer typically found in the outerparts of the lungs, is more common in women and younger people, and—unlike with squamous cell carcinoma, more common in men— coughing i