Debunking lung cancer myths for lung cancer awareness month

Top 5 Lung Cancer Myths Debunked


Lung cancer is one of the most prevalent cancers in America and the leading cause of cancer death. As such, there is a lot of information out there you might come across while researching the disease. But how do you sort the fact from fiction? Well, we’ve done some of the legwork for you by finding our top five lung cancer myths and setting the record straight.

MYTH #1: Only smokers can get lung cancer

This is by far one of the biggest lung cancer myths. While it’s true that cigarette smoking is linked to 80-90% of lung cancer deaths,1 even non-smokers can develop the disease. In fact, the American Society of Clinical Oncology notes that up to 30,000 Americans who have never smoked  are diagnosed with lung cancer every year.Aside from smoking tobacco products, there are several other risk factors to know about. These include secondhand smoke, air pollution, and a family history of lung cancer. There are also chemical substances found in some workplaces that may increase your risk, such as asbestos, arsenic, and diesel exhaust.

MYTH #2: It’s too late for long-time smokers to bother quitting

According to the National Institute on Aging, “It doesn’t matter how old you are or how long you’ve been smoking, quitting smoking at any time improves your health.” Smoking cessation comes with numerous benefits regardless of age. Not only will you lower your risk of lung cancer, but you’ll also reduce your chances of having a heart attack or stroke. In addition, there are quality-of-life benefits like breathing more easily, saving money, not smelling like smoke, and setting a healthy example for the younger generations in your family.

MYTH #3: Everyone who gets lung cancer dies

This lung cancer myth probably stems from the fact that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States – accounting for more deaths than prostate, colon, and breast cancer combined. However, the University of Chicago Medical Center points out that “80% of people with stage 1 lung cancer will be cured, and survival has increased dramatically for those with advanced lung cancer thanks to better insights into the disease, new therapies, and advanced technology.”3

One of those advanced technologies is proton therapy, which allows physicians to precisely deliver powerful radiation doses to the cancer cells, while sparing healthy tissue and nearby critical structures, including the esophagus, lung, heart, and spinal cord. This lowers the risk of treatment-related side effects and improves the patient’s quality of life.

MYTH #4: Young people can’t get lung cancer

This is another one of those lung cancer myths that likely comes from misunderstanding the stats. Yes, a large number of people diagnosed are 65 years old or older. However, the disease is not limited to senior citizens. In fact, a small percentage of cases occur in people 45 years old or younger. For smokers, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening for lung cancer starting at age 50. That’s for anyone who has a 20 pack-year smoking history and is currently smoking or has quit within the past 15 years. Furthermore, medical history and family genes also play a part in young people’s lung cancer risk. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, “Your risks of getting cancer at a young age may be determined in part by factors such as radiation therapy for childhood cancer, or a genetic predisposition to lung cancer.”

MYTH #5: There’s no point in quitting smoking if you’ve already been diagnosed

It’s common for lung cancer patients to feel this sentiment. However, there are several benefits to quitting smoking even after a lung cancer diagnosis. A 2021 prospective study of more than 500 patients concluded that “smoking cessation after diagnosis materially improved overall and progression-free survival among current smokers.”4 In addition, cutting the habit after a diagnosis could also slow the cancer’s growth and lower the risk of a relapse. The effectiveness of treatment may also be impacted, as smoking can affect how well chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy work.


Sources & Studies

  1. What Are the Risk Factors for Lung Cancer? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated October 25, 2022. Accessed November 10, 2022.
  2. Patel J. Just Diagnosed with Lung Cancer: Answers From an Expert. American Society of Clinical Oncology. June 14, 2018. Accessed November 10, 2022.
  3. Slomski A. Advanced lung cancer is no longer an automatic death sentence. University of Chicago Medical Center. July 31, 2019. Accessed November 10, 2022.
  4. Sheikh M, Mukeriya A, Shangina O, Brennan P, Zaridze D. Postdiagnosis Smoking Cessation and Reduced Risk for Lung Cancer Progression and Mortality : A Prospective Cohort Study.Ann Intern Med. 2021;174(9):1232-1239. doi:10.7326/M21-0252