iHeard because I’m not a smoker I can’t get lung cancer. Is this true? "

Lung cancer is one of the top five cancers diagnosed in Australia and is the most common cause of cancer-related death. People who are diagnosed with lung cancer can feel stigmatised by their disease. A survey conducted by Cancer Australia found that about one in five Australians presume that a person’s lung cancer is because they are a smoker and that they are somehow to blame for their illness.

While tobacco smoking is linked to the 90% of lung cancer cases in men and 65% of lung cancer cases in women in Australia, it is not the only risk factor. In fact, all causes of lung cancer are not fully understood.

Anyone can develop lung cancer – current smokers, former smokers and people who have never smoked. Around 1 in 10 men and 1 in 3 women who are diagnosed with lung cancer have no history of smoking. And a proportion of lung cancer cases in men can be linked to occupational exposures.

All people with lung cancer should never be judged but rather supported by family, friends, colleagues and health professionals.

What are the risk factors for lung cancer?

You can greatly reduce your risk of lung cancer by not smoking, quitting smoking and avoiding second-hand smoke. The earlier a person starts smoking, the more cigarettes they smoke and the longer they smoke, the higher the risk of developing lung cancer. Other risk factors include:

  • exposure to asbestos
  • exposure to elements such as radioactive gas
  • air pollution
  • contact with the processing of cadmium, steel, arsenic and nickel in the workplace
  • exposure to diesel in the workplace
  • family history of lung cancer
  • having another lung disease such as chronic bronchitis or emphysema
  • older age as lung cancer is more common in people over the age of 60.

Common symptoms of lung cancer include coughing or spitting up blood (once or more), a persistent new cough, a change in a cough, becoming more short of breath, tired or lacking energy, losing weight without trying, pain in your chest, shoulder, tummy, finding it hard to breathe or swallow and/or not feeling hungry. These may be caused by other factors but if you have any concerns, contact your doctor – whether you are a smoker or not.