Cigarettes aren’t the only cause of lung cancer

Dr. Shirish Gadgeel

By Shirish Gadgeel, leader of the Thoracic Oncology Multidisciplinary Team at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute and associate professor of oncology at Wayne State University School of Medicine

In the early 1900s, lung cancer was a relatively rare disease, with barely a mention in major medical textbooks. This year, there will be an estimated 221,000 new lung cancer diagnoses in the United States and nearly 157,000 deaths from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society.

Many people presume a direct link between lung cancer and smoking. But that assumption isn’t always accurate.

About 85 to 90 percent of lung cancer cases occur in current or former smokers. But only about 20 percent of long-term smokers go on to develop lung cancer. Ten to 15 percent of lung cancer patients are people who have never smoked.

So what accounts for lung cancer cases in patients who quit smoking many years ago or never took up the habit?

The risk for developing lung cancer persists even after smoking cessation. Other risks include exposure to asbestos, radon and second-hand cigarette smoke. There is also increasing evidence that small particulate matter in air pollution may cause lung cancer.

At Karmanos, cancer researchers are actively seeking better ways of detecting the disease at an early stage. They’re also investigating other lung cancer risk factors such as genetics, as well as developing better treatments and cancer-fighting drugs.

If we can reduce our nation’s smoking habits, we will make a major impact on lung cancer mortality. That won’t eliminate lung cancer entirely, but it can be substantially reduced.

If you’re interested in receiving information about smoking cessation, call 1-800-KARMANOS (1-800-527-6266) and ask for the Patient/Community Education Department or send an e-mail to

Quit Tips

Here are some ideas to help smokers break the habit:

Change your daily routine. Because smoking becomes such an ingrained habit, sometimes a small change in your daily routine – like driving a new route to work – can break the cycle.

Drink lots of water. People who quit smoking sometimes feel tired. Drinking water can help flush out fatigue-causing toxins that have built up in your body.

Become more physically active. Engage in a light exercise program instead of smoking. This will improve your health – a tangible benefit of quitting!

Clean house. The day before you quit, wash all your clothes and thoroughly clean your house and car. This eliminates smoke odors that can trigger a relapse.


1 Response to “Cigarettes aren’t the only cause of lung cancer”

  1. 1 Noah Berkowitz February 14, 2012 at 5:36 am

    I agree with your statement and I am kind a shocked at the fact that there are 221, 000 people in your country had diagnose to have a lung cancer and 157, 000 of them dying from that disease. How much more in the other country? Cigarette in other way is good but when its being abuse it will so crucial.

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