Mediaplanet: Many people who have never smoked have been diagnosed with Lung Cancer and more and more young people are being dealt this diagnosis. How can we debunk the misconception that lung cancer is only a smoker’s disease?

Regina Vidaver: Approximately 25,000 people with no smoking history die from lung cancer in the U.S. each year.  That’s more than those who die from AIDS, ovarian cancer or Parkinson’s disease.  The primary causes of lung cancer among people who do not smoke are radon and air pollution, but a person’s genetic background also affects their risk.

MP: What are the common symptoms of lung cancer for people to be aware of?

  • Blood when you cough or spit

  • Recurring respiratory infections

  • Enduring cough that is new or different

  • Ache or pain in shoulder, back or chest

  • Trouble breathing

  • Hoarseness or wheezing

  • Exhaustion, weakness or loss of appetite

Other symptoms may include:

  • Swelling in the neck and face

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Weight loss

MP: What are some ways to reduce your risk of getting lung cancer?

RV: First and foremost, don’t smoke. If you do smoke, get the help you need to quit.  The second leading cause of lung cancer is radon; if you live in an area with high radon levels, consider having your home tested. Eat a well-balanced diet and exercise to help reduce the risk of all cancers.

"The second leading cause of lung cancer is radon; if you live in an area with high radon levels, consider having your home tested."

MP: What is the difference between a low-dose spiral CT screening test and a chest X-ray?

RV: A chest X-ray is a one-dimensional view, while a spiral CT is a series of views creating a 3-D image of the entire area examined. Low-dose CT scans are done for screening purposes, while higher-dose CT scans are done for diagnostic procedures, such as when lung cancer is suspected due to symptoms. 

MP: What advice would you give to young men and women about lung cancer?

RV: If you have lungs you can get lung cancer. That means you need to know your own body. Don’t ignore strange symptoms.  Never allow a doctor to tell you everything is fine if you don’t think it is. Seek out a second opinion if you still feel like something is wrong.

MP: How can one quit smoking and decrease their chances of being diagnosed with lung cancer?

RV: We highly recommend contacting becomeanex.org or 1-800-QUIT-NOW.  These resources can help anyone who is smoking make a plan to quit, and encourage success at carrying out that plan!

MP: Can lung cancer lead to other deadly cancers?

RV: The cancer itself does not lead to other cancers. But if someone is receiving radiation to treat their cancer, this treatment can lead to additional cancers later in life.  This is true not just in lung cancer therapy, but for radiation given for any type of cancer.

MP: Where do you see the advancements in treatment and technology connecting with lung cancer in five years?

RV: Technology has advanced such that discovering the makeup of the whole genome will soon cost $1,000 or less.  This fact will revolutionize cancer therapy in general, as more cancers will be defined not by the tissue in which they start, but the genetic lesions that occurred to begin or propel the cancer.

MP: How can we play an active role in ensuring lung cancer gets the proper research funding it needs?

Advocate for lung cancer research funding from government bodies. Right now, government research funding for lung cancer and other biomedical research is in severe jeopardy.