Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) occurs almost exclusively in people who smoke, but non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common type.
NSCLC accounts for
Lung cancer is the
Smoking is linked to all types of lung cancer, but a type of lung cancer SCLC is almost always found in smokers. It’s very rare in people who have never smoked.
SCLC spreads quickly and requires aggressive treatment.
It’s very rare for nonsmokers to develop SCLC. It grows and spreads faster than NSCLC and is often harder to treat. Chemotherapy and radiation are often used together to help treat SCLC.
Formers smokers and the risk of lung cancer
Quitting smoking reduces your risk of lung cancer. Your risk gets lower for every year you go without smoking.
Quitting smoking at a younger age, especially quitting before turning 40, can reduce the risk even more.
You will always have a higher risk of lung cancer than people who have never smoked, but quitting can reduce your risk dramatically.
In fact, even if you quit after you’ve already received a lung cancer diagnosis, you can improve your outlook and survival odds.
Anyone can develop lung cancer, even if they’ve never smoked. However, people who have never smoked or who used to smoke are more likely to develop NSCLC.
There are a few types of NSCLC. Nonsmokers are most often diagnosed with a type of NSCLC called adenocarcinoma. This type of lung cancer starts in the mucus-secreting cells in your lungs.
Adenocarcinoma is also common in former smokers. It’s common for adenocarcinoma to be diagnosed early. This allows treatment to begin before the cancer spreads.
Dangers of secondhand smoke
Exposure to secondhand smoke is dangerous. According to the
Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke have a 20% to 30 % increased risk of developing lung cancer, notes the CDC.
Smoking is the number one risk factor for all types of lung cancer, but it’s not the only known risk.
There are multiple other risks linked to lung cancer. These include:
- Secondhand smoke: Secondhand smoke is associated with an increased risk of lung cancer. Even if you’ve never smoked yourself, living with a smoker, or working around smokers, can increase your risk.
- Exposure to asbestos: People with jobs that expose them to asbestos, such as miners and textile plant workers, have a higher risk of lung cancer. However, in recent years, government regulations have required employers to reduce the amount of asbestos in worksites, commercial buildings, and homes.
- Exposure to radon: Radon is a chemical that occurs when uranium breaks down in rocks and soil. It can be found in some homes and builds, especially in basements, and it can increase your risk of lung cancer. If you’re concerned about radon in your home, you can use a home detection kit to see radon levels.
- Exposure to carcinogens: Inhaling chemicals found in some workplaces can increase your risk of lung cancer. These include vinyl chloride, nickel, beryllium, cadmium, silica, diesel exhaust, and arsenic.
- Air pollution: Living in an area with poor air quality and heavy pollution is linked to a higher risk of lung cancer.
- Previous lung cancer: If you’ve had lung cancer in the past, you have an increased risk of developing it again.
- Family history of lung cancer: You have an increased risk of lung cancer if you have a parent or sibling who has ever had lung cancer.
Some potential risk factors are still being studied. These include smoking cannabis and using e-cigarettes. Right now, there’s not enough data to say whether these are linked to an increased risk of lung cancer or how significant that risk might be.
Talc and talcum powders are another unknown risk. Some studies have linked these products to a risk of lung cancer and respiratory disease, but not all studies have reproduced these results.
Currently, there’s no proven link between talcum powder and an increased risk of lung cancer.
Smoking and lung cancer fast facts
Smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer. It’s linked to an increased risk of all types of lung cancer, including NSCLC.
SCLC, a fast-growing and hard-to-treat lung cancer, is almost always seen in smokers. SCLC is very rare in nonsmokers.
Nonsmokers are more likely to develop a type of NSCLC called adenocarcinoma than other types of lung cancer. Other risk factors for lung cancer include exposure to secondhand smoke and certain chemicals as well as a family history of lung cancer.