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Lung cancer on the rise in non-smokers, report warns

Study: Professor Mick Peake
Study: Professor Mick Peake

By Sally Wardle

Lung cancer among people who have never smoked is rising and is "more common than most people think", experts have warned.

An estimated 6,000 'never-smokers' - those who have had fewer than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime - die from the disease every year in the UK, higher than deaths from other cancer types, according to a paper in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

If considered separately, lung cancer among this group alone would be the eighth most common cause of cancer-related death in the country, the authors said.

They suggested the stigma around smoking had led to a lack of research into the disease, and called for greater work to tackle other causes of lung cancer.

While smoking remains the largest modifiable risk factor for lung cancer in the UK, accounting for 86% of cases, pollution and second-hand smoke are also linked to its development.

"Lung cancer in never-smokers is more common than most people think and on the rise. It is time to give this disease the recognition it deserves," the authors said.

Around 900 people die from cervical cancer, 4,200 from ovarian cancer and 5,200 from lymphoma in the UK every year.

Co-author Professor Mick Peake, from the University College London Hospitals Cancer Collaborative, said: "Despite advances in our understanding, most people who have never smoked do not believe they are at risk and often experience long delays in diagnosis, reducing their chances of receiving curative treatment.

"The stigma of smoking has been the major factor behind the lack of interest in, knowledge of and research into lung cancer. Therefore, in many ways, never-smokers who develop lung cancer are disadvantaged."

A recent Public Health England (PHE) report called for a raft of measures to cut pollution.

Lead author Professor Paul Cosford, director for health protection and medical director at the PHE, said: "By delivering on the promise of a clean air generation, we can reduce the number of lung cancers."

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