Lung cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the United States, with over 230,000 new cases each year. One of the biggest risk factors contributing to lung cancer is smoking. However, over the last few years, the number of non-smoking lung cancer cases has increased – with ties to asbestos exposure.

According to Cone Health Cancer Center Radiation Oncologist Matt Manning, MD, FASTRO, non-smokers are the fastest growing group of lung cancer patients. A National Cancer Institute study reports approximately 10% of men and 20% of women with lung cancer have never smoked or used tobacco products. These increasing rates are alarming, especially the rate at which women are affected.

But why are people who have never smoked or used tobacco products still at risk for lung cancer? What is causing these rates to increase at an exponential rate?


What is Causing the Rise in Non-Smoking Lung Cancer?

Smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer, but if you’ve never smoked, how can you have this disease?

The correlation between non-smokers and lung cancer is not yet clear, but there are some factors that may increase the risk of lung cancer in non-smokers.


Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos is the only cause of a very rare cancer called mesothelioma, but it can also lead to other health problems, such as lung cancer.

Asbestos is a cancer-causing mineral known to be frequently used throughout the 20th century. Many regulations have been implemented to reduce the use of the toxic substance, but countless people were exposed to asbestos during its peak.

Most exposure to asbestos occurred on job sites, but it was possible for consumers or families to be exposed by the products, appliances or materials in their home.

Similar to secondhand smoke being a cause of lung cancer, secondhand exposure to asbestos can cause lung cancer. Secondhand exposure to asbestos occurs when a worker carries asbestos on their clothes and into a home, vehicle or another enclosed space, where other people are at risk.

The danger of asbestos is its microscopic size and needle-like fibers. If the material is distured, asbestos dust can become airborne and enter the body through the nose or mouth, leading to serious health problems, such as lung cancer or mesothelioma.

If you or a loved one think you may have been exposed to asbestos, contact our Registered Nurse, Karen Ritter. She can help answer any asbestos-related health questions.



If your family or any relatives have a history of lung cancer, you may have a higher risk of being diagnosed with lung cancer. Evaluate your family’s medical history to understand if you may be predisposed to develop lung cancer.

It’s important to know if you or any of your loved ones may have underlying conditions that can increase your risk of lung cancer. If any relatives have been diagnosed with lung cancer, find out what factors could have contributed to their diagnosis.

In some cases, genetics have not played a role in the diagnosis of lung cancer. Sometimes, as a family you are exposed to the same toxins at home or in commonplaces.


Secondhand Smoke

You can increase your risk of developing non-smoking lung cancer by being exposed to secondhand smoke. This occurs when non-smokers breath in tobacco smoke exhaled or emitted by a smoker or tobacco product.

According to the CDC, since the 1964 Surgeon General’s Report, 2.5 million non-smoking adults have died from health issues caused by secondhand smoke.

Protect yourself and your health by avoiding areas designated for smoking – especially in enclosed spaces.


Radon Gas

Exposure to radon gas can also increase your risk of lung cancer. Radon is a radioactive gas that occurs after the breakdown of uranium in soil and rocks. It is undetectable by sight, taste or smell.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. and the number one cause of lung cancer for non-smokers.

Just as you should avoid enclosed smoking spaces, you should also avoid indoor areas with radon. Homes and many buildings in the U.S. have high levels of radon.

It can be highly concentrated, and breathing it in can be detrimental to your lungs. Inhaling radon will expose your lungs to small amounts of radiation, increasing the risk of developing lung cancer.

The rise in non-smoking lung cancer cases is alarming. However, knowing the risk factors will help you lower the risk of lung cancer in yourself and your loved ones. 

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About the Writer, Camryn Keeble

Camryn Keeble is the senior content writer and editor for Mesothelioma Guide. She creates mesothelioma-related content for the Mesothelioma Guide website. Camryn's goal is to decipher advanced information regarding mesothelioma into informative, simplified content to educate those affected by mesothelioma. She also works diligently to raise awareness of mesothelioma and its effects on patients and their loved ones.