Lung cancer is starting to become one of the leading causes of deaths in the United Kingdom, victimizing smokers and non-smokers alike.
In a study featured in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, public health experts found a noticeable increase in the number of non-smoking people diagnosed with the disease.
Non-Smokers Die From Lung Cancer Annually
As much as 6,000 Britons lose their lives annually due to complications of lung cancer despite smoking a small number of cigarettes (fewer than 100 throughout their lifetime) or never having smoked at all. This translates to one-sixth of the total 36,000 deaths related to malignancy every year.
The figure is also significantly higher compared to fatalities caused by other forms of cancer, such as leukemia, cervical, or ovarian.
If considered as a separate statistic altogether, lung cancer among non-smokers is already the eighth most common cause of cancer deaths in the country and the seventh most common malignancy in the world, according to the researchers.
Experts believe most lung cancer diagnoses among non-smokers are caused by secondhand smoke, vehicle fumes, and air pollution found indoors.
Lung Cancer In Non-Smokers
Cigarette smoking in the UK have been declining over the past few years. However, lung cancer rates in non-smokers have also been relatively increasing.
Paul Cosford, director for health protection at Public Health England and lead author of the study, said such figures may be surprising to many people in the UK.
"They rarely think of lung cancer as a non-smoker's disease," Cosford said. "They're so focused on smoking as the main risk factor that we forget that there are quite a few causes of lung cancer that affect non-smokers."
The study has personal importance to Cosford who recently got diagnosed with lung cancer himself despite not being a smoker. He noted how people are starting to realize that it is a public health problem that they need to be supportive of.
Detecting lung cancer in non-smokers has been difficult for health professionals. Patients often get diagnosed only after they reach the third or fourth stage of the disease, which may already be too late for them to receive proper treatment. Cancer therapies may be able to help prolong their lives but they may not be enough to cure them.
Sufferers are also often misdiagnosed, with symptoms of their lung cancer, such as muscular pain, being mistaken by doctors for those of other illnesses.
Primary Causes Of Lung Cancer Among Non-Smokers
Secondhand smoke is one of the main causes of lung cancer development in non-smokers mentioned in the study. It accounts for 15 percent of the 6,000 malignancy cases every year.
People who are regularly exposed to different carcinogens, such as asbestos, are also likely to have lung cancer. As much as 20.5 percent of non-smoking men and 4.3 percent of non-smoking women who develop the disease start out this way.
Inhaling outdoor air pollution is also a primary cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, accounting for 8 percent of all cases every year. It is also associated with 39,000 deaths in the UK every year because of various medical conditions.