Non-Smokers Can Also Get Lung Cancer: Experts

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KUALA LUMPUR, March 18 — The perception that only smokers are predisposed to lung cancer is a misconception as non-smokers can also get lung cancer, medical experts said. 

Lung Cancer Network Malaysia (LCNM) president and consultant cardiothoracic surgeon Dr Anand Sachithanandan said that the most obvious misconception is that most people think lung cancer is only associated with smoking. 

“Unfortunately, from our own clinical practice we see lots of patients up to one third of patients are those who never smoke, who are deemed to be non-smokers,” Dr Anand said during the launch of the #KeepBreathing campaign by LCNM and Pfizer on February 3. 

However, Dr Anand said smoking is the most identifiable and preventable risk factor of lung cancer. 

LCNM vice president and clinical oncologist Dr Tho Lye Mun pointed out that because vaping is a new phenomenon, there is no evidence as such that vaping can cause lung cancer, but he said inhalation of fumes with tobacco is one of the risk factors of developing lung cancer. 

“We can only see the cumulative effects of vape on causing lung cancer only up to 10 to 20 years, so at this moment, this is still unanswered,” Dr Tho said. 

He also highlighted another common misconception on lung cancer, whereby people think that only older men can get lung cancer. 

“My youngest patient is a 25-year-old, female, non-smoker who developed stage four lung cancer.” 

Consultant clinical oncologist Dr Mohamed Ibrahim Wahid, during the event, highlighted that  financial burden kicks in when a patient is diagnosed with cancer as they have to pay for treatment, bills, food, support their family etc. 

As treatment is long, sometimes years, government funding or money from the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) that patients may have used earlier may run out. 

“Financial toxicity can put a lot of strain on patients because patients can be the breadwinner and they are no longer working because of their cancer and this will have a major impact on mental and emotional stress on the family,” Dr Ibrahim said during the launch of V-Care, a patient assistance programme to support epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) positive non-small cell lung cancer patients to ensure continuity of care by Pfizer Malaysia. 

“How are they going to support the family when they are not working and also treatment cost and new developments of cancer treatment is not cheap?

“Sometimes, patients also skip treatment. They want to extend their course of their medicine so what they do is that instead of taking it regularly, they may take it irregularly so that they don’t have to buy the drugs too often and that’s not a good thing,” Dr Ibrahim added.

“If you don’t take the medications properly, the chances are cancer can come back.”

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