Lung Cancer kills Never-Smokers

Environmental causes of lung cancer in never-smokers

Evidence that lung cancer is under-recognised rather than uncommon among those who have never smoked is reviewed in a commentary article from respiratory medicine and public health experts published in the Journal of the RSM [1].

Lung cancer is, mistakenly, widely thought of as exclusively a ‘smokers’ disease’, the authors conclude, although lung cancer mortality among never-smokers is the eighth most significant cause of cancer mortality in the UK.

The article reviews the epidemiology and genomics literature, concluding that an estimated 6,000 never-smokers die each year from lung cancer in the UK (a greater number than die of cervical cancer, lymphoma, leukaemia or ovarian cancer) and that there is a need to raise awareness among clinicians and policymakers of environmental risk factors, including exposure to occupational carcinogens, air pollution, radon, and second-hand tobacco smoke.

The authors conclude that the historically strong, and correct, messaging on smoking and health has inadvertently contributed to a situation in which there is lack of knowledge of and research into lung cancer and that, as a result, never-smokers who develop lung cancer are disadvantaged.


1) Bhopal A, Michael D Peake MD, Gilligan D and Cosford P (26 April, 2019). Lung cancer in never-smokers: a hidden disease [Commentary], Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

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