There was encouraging news last week, that, at long last, deaths related to lung cancer are going down significantly.
However, in this week's Moves in Medicine, we look at the new challenge: Why are so many non-smokers getting this cancer?
Dana Reeve, wife of Superman star Christopher Reeve.
Singer Donna Summer.
When word spread of their advanced lung cancer, everyone wanted to know why?
That's what Fox Chase Cancer Center is trying to find out in a new clinic for 'never smokers.'
"20 per cent, one in five new lung cancers are occurring in never smokers," says Dr. Joseph Treat, a hematologist/oncologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center.
Exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke may be one factor, but Dr Treat and Dr. Nicholas Bodor say there's more.
These patients are mostly women, often, they're Asian, and they tend to be younger than smokers who develop lung cancer.
"And the type of cancers they get are different," says Dr. Treat.
Those cancers have different genetic mutations.
Estrogen might be one clue.
Fox Chase researchers found that human lungs can metabolize the hormone to form a cancer-causing agent.
And the levels vary with race, ethnicity, and gender.
"We're actively looking at out patients, measuring things like estrogen levels, seeing how it's metabolized in the blood," says Dr. Bodor.
New immune-boosting drugs are extending lives for lung cancer patients who smoked, but -
"In the never smoking population, immunotherapy just doesn't seem to work very well," says Dr. Treat.
So the doctors have a clinical trial underway to see if adding other drugs make immunotherapy work better.
Oncologist Dr. Hossein Borghaei says cancer in 'never smokers' is getting a LOT of attention.
"I am really hopeful that we will be able to figure out why patients are getting these types of cancer," says Dr. Borghaei.
The doctors say removing the stigma about lung cancer is a priority for both smokers and non-smokers.
They say no one "deserves" to get this illness.
To find out more about lung cancer clinical trials at Fox Chase Cancer Center, click here.
Moves in Medicine: 'Never Smokers' Who Develop Lung Cancer