7 Myths About Lung Cancer

The HealthCentral Editorial Team | March 28, 2012

Reviewed by Todd Gersten, MD

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True or false?

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Most people think they understand lung cancer but, as with many health conditions, there are a lot of misconceptions about it, in part based on a lack of awareness about how treatment has changed.

But how can you know the myths from the facts? Here’s the lowdown on seven of the most common myths about lung cancer.

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Only smokers get lung cancer

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False. Anyone can develop lung cancer, though current and former smokers are at a higher risk of developing it. People who have breathed in large quantities of secondhand smoke also have a greater chance of lung cancer, as do those who have had tuberculosis.

Other factors that can raise a person’s lung cancer risk include exposure to radiation, air pollution, and to some industrial substances such as arsenic and asbestos.

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I'm too young to get lung cancer

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False. Lung cancer can strike people of any age, including children, though it certainly is more common in older people.

The truth is, though, that one particular type of lung cancer — bronchioloalveolar cancer — is showing an increased incidence in younger, non-smoking women.

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Lung cancer can't be treated

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False. If detected early enough, lung cancer is treatable with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation oncology, and newer kinds of treatment including targeted drug therapy, which works by targeting specific abnormalities in cancer cells, and immune system therapies.

Research has shown that when lung cancer is diagnosed early enough, the five-year survival rates can be as high as 85 percent.

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I don't need to worry because I don't have symptoms

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False. About 25 percent of people who have lung cancer have no symptoms at all. Their lung cancer is often diagnosed by a routine CT scan or a chest X-ray.

The signs and symptoms of lung cancer can take years to appear, and then they are sometimes confused with signs of other health conditions.

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There's a blood test to detect lung cancer

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False. Lung cancer can be diagnosed only through examination of tissue obtained by needle biopsy, open lung biopsy, or by a procedure that involves inserting a device called a bronchoscope into the throat.

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If I have lung cancer, there's no point in quitting smoking

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False. If you have lung cancer and are still smoking, you should know that stopping can improve the chances your surgery will be successful and also decrease the chances that you’ll die from other health conditions. If you are able to stop smoking before you’re diagnosed, your lung tissue can begin to gradually return to normal.

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I'm too old for my lung cancer to be treated

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False. Unless you are suffering from another health condition that will prevent you from being treated, you’re never too old to have your lung cancer treated.