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Smoking is still the most common cause of lung cancer, but an increasing percentage of lung cancer patients who have never smoked and are under age 40 are being diagnosed with the disease. Renata Angerami/Getty Images
  • The American Lung Association has released its annual Lung Health Barometer survey.
  • Overall, the pace of lung cancer deaths is down, but it remains stubbornly high.
  • While smoking remains the number one cause of lung cancer, a growing number of non-smokers under age 40 are being diagnosed.

Emily Daniels, who lives with her husband and their young son in Golden, CO, was 32 years old, and in the 33rd week of her pregnancy, she began feeling tightness in her chest.

She wisely had it checked out, and a CT scan found two blood clots in her lungs. The scan also discovered a mass, which a biopsy confirmed was stage IV lung cancer.

Daniels, who has never smoked, was shocked to hear the diagnosis.

Her doctors aren’t sure how she got cancer. But they told her it was best to induce labor for the sake of the baby’s health and the mother’s.

“I had undergone a year and a half of fertility treatment, and if I had to guess, my body wasn’t strong enough in that stress mode because of fertility and the hormones. It made things go crazy in my body,” she told Healthline.

“My doctor thinks this is valid. But we don’t know.”

Daniels is still living with lung cancer. She’s been through chemotherapy and several other treatments and procedures. It’s been difficult, and her life has changed dramatically.

But she’s taking it all in stride because she’s still alive. And her baby boy, Brady, is now four and a half. Daniels will soon celebrate her 37th birthday.

“Lung cancer has given me a perspective on what is important and how you want to live your life,” she told Healthline. “I want to live every day with no regrets.”

Today is World Lung Cancer Day, and the American Lung Association released the Lung Health Barometer, a new survey revealing critical lung cancer awareness statistics.

The good news is that lung cancer overall is down.

The bad news is that it remains the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S.

Smoking is still the most common cause of lung cancer, but an increasing percentage of lung cancer patients like Daniels who have never smoked and are under age 40 are being diagnosed with the disease.

“While rates of lung cancer have fallen in the last 15 years because tobacco control is better and there are more preventive measures, there’s a higher percentage now of ‘never smokers’ who are getting lung cancer,” David Tom Cooke, MD, F.A.C.S. chief division of general thoracic surgery at UC Davis, told Healthline.

Cooke said there are multiple reasons why people who have never smoked get lung cancer.

They include exposure to second-hand smoke, radon, asbestos fibers, air pollution, toxins from increasing wildfires worldwide, and genetic factors.

“It’s important to look at the big picture. The death rate from lung cancer has been falling in our country for 10 years,” Cooke said.

“That’s because of tobacco recovery and prevention, advances in surgery for early stage, immunotherapy, and precision medicine.

The adoption of precision medicine includes the deployment of liquid biopsies, which are simple blood tests that look at circulating tumor DNA in the blood, Cooke said.

“These assays can detect cancer and find driver mutations. It’s a promising technology, and it’s most effective in patients with advanced lung cancer,” Cooke said.

“It makes sense that the more cancer you have in [your] body, the more you will have circulating tumor DNA in [the] blood.”

He said that it’s not as effective with early-stage lung cancer when the tumor is very small and may not be shedding DNA into the bloodstream.

According to the American Lung Association survey, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., but the disease often remains in the shadows.

It’s estimated that more than 235,000 Americans will be diagnosed this year with lung cancer.

But only 29% of Americans know that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.

Only about one in four respondents (26%) knew that the lung cancer survival rate increased by over 30% in the past ten years.

Seventy-three percent of adults have not spoken with their doctor about their risk for lung cancer, and only 40% are concerned they might get the disease.

And nearly 70% of respondents were unfamiliar with the availability of lung cancer screening for early detection of the disease.

The American Lung Association is working to defeat lung cancer.

To do so, the organization is engaging a variety of tactics and stakeholders to address the disease.

“This low awareness is due in part to an undeserved stigma that has followed lung cancer for decades. The fact is that anyone can get lung cancer, and no one deserves it,” Harold Wimmer, national president and CEO of the American Lung Association, said in a press statement.

“The good news is that the lung cancer survival rate has risen substantially, and awareness of this deadly disease has steadily increased,” he stated.

“Greater awareness of lung cancer is key to securing research funding, encouraging lung cancer screening, reducing stigma around this disease, and ultimately, saving lives,” Wimmer said.