4 Common Lung Cancer Myths Debunked

Did you know that every day, approximately 10 Malaysians die of lung cancer(1)?

According to the World Health Organisation, lung cancer is also responsible for the highest number of deaths in 2018, specifically 1.8 million deaths which is equivalent to 18.4% of the total(2). Unfortunately, due to the stigma attached to this disease, patients have reportedly delayed their diagnosis and treatment(3). This has also caused the lack in support and public empathy for lung cancer when compared to many other diseases.

In an effort to stop such stigma, it’s crucial to first fix common misconceptions about the disease and educate the public regarding potential life-saving truths.

Myth #1: Only smokers succumb to lung cancer

While a majority of people who have lung cancer are smokers (or were at some point), as many as 20% of the people who die of lung cancer do not smoke or use any form of tobacco.

However, it is also important to note that people who smoke are up to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from lung cancer than people who do not smoke(4). Those who quit smoking have a lower risk of lung cancer than if they had continued to smoke, but their risk is higher than the risk for people who never smoked(5). Quitting smoking at any age can also lower the risk of lung cancer.

Myth #2: Non-smokers will never develop lung cancer

Smoke from other people’s cigarettes has proven to cause lung cancer. When a person breathes in secondhand smoke, the effects are similar to those who actually smoke(6). While tobacco is by far the leading cause of cancer, it is not the only contributor. One can increase the risk of developing lung cancer if they are exposed to radon, radiation and other industrial substances(7).

Myth #3: People without symptoms don’t have to worry about lung cancer

Lung cancer symptoms differ from one person to another. However, signs and symptoms of lung cancer can take years to develop and they may not appear until the disease is in an advanced stage(8).

Sometimes symptoms can be similar to other diagnoses including pneumonia, allergies or a cold. This may cause a few to mistake them for other diseases apart from lung cancer and cause a delay in their correct diagnosis(9). So if you notice any suspicious symptoms, it’s best to see your doctor right away. Lung cancer symptoms may include: (5)

  • Chest pain
  • Weight loss with no known cause
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing that gets worse or doesn’t go away
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing up blood
  • Feeling very tired all the time

Myth #4: There is no hope for lung cancer patients

While it is common for most lung cancer diseases to be discovered in the advanced stages there are still treatment options that can make symptoms easier to handle(10). Besides chemotherapy, new advances in lung cancer treatments such as targeted therapy and immunotherapy, either alone or in combination with other treatments have shown improved survival benefits(11).

  1. International Agency for Research on Cancer
  2. https://www.who.int/cancer/PRGlobocanFinal.pdf
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25736473
  4. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/kimmel_cancer_center/centers/lung_cancer_program/myths_about_smoking_and_lung_cancer.html
  5. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/lung/basic_info/risk_factors.htm
  6. https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/lung-cancer/risks-causes
  7. https://www.lungcancer.org/find_information/publications/163-lung_cancer_101/273-risks
  8. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/lung/basic_info/symptoms.htm
  9. https://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/lung-cancer/learn-about-lung-cancer/symptoms/
  10. https://today.mims.com/hope-for-lung-cancer-patients–new-therapy-40–more-effective-than-chemotherapy?channel=gn-health-wellness)
  11. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1606774#t=articleDiscussion