Lung cancer on the rise among non-smokers

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by JANET ST. JAMES

WFAA

Posted on April 2, 2012 at 5:00 PM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 3 at 2:19 AM

DALLAS -- Since new and graphic anti-smoking ads debuted, calls to a toll-free number to help people quit cigarettes have doubled, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
 
Commercials could not have stopped 68-year-old Irene Suarez from getting lung cancer.

"I never bought cigarettes.  I never smoked at home, I never smoked," said Suarez. "But I got lung cancer."

University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas is treating more lung cancers in non-smokers than ever.

Dr. David Gerber, a medical oncologist, calls it epidemic.

"It's probably over 15% of lung cancer cases," said Dr. Gerber, "And when you figure that there are over 200-thousand cases a year of lung cancer diagnosed in the United States, that's over 30,000 cases of never smoker lung cancer."

Environmental factors, secondary smoke, pollution, radon gas, and genetics may play a role.  Experts also say better diagnoses of slow-growing lung cancers may also contribute to an increase in the overall number of lung cancers in never smokers.

Dr. Michael DiMaio, the cardiothoracic surgeon who removed Suarez' tumor, said women, for unknown reasons, are more often affected.

"Almost all the tumors that I remove at surgery go to our laboratories where we are studying the research markers, molecular markers," Dr. DiMaio explained. "And seeing what mutations are happening in these tumors that could give us a clue to the cause of this."

There is no early screening for lung cancer in non-smokers.

Irene Suarez had no symptoms. Her cancer was detected during an annual blood test five years ago. Her husband, former Texas Rangers baseball catcher Ken Suarez, is his wife's biggest fan and supporter.

 "As Ron Washington says, 'You have to take what the games gives you.'" said Ken Suarez.

"I thank God for every good day that I have," Irene Suarez said. "And I've learned to treasure those times more."

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com

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