Published on November 18, 2021

Lung Cancer Can Strike Non- and Never-Smokers, Says Lung Cancer Survivor


It’s not just smokers,” said Carolyn Albarelli, 76, of Hendersonville, NC. Mrs. Albarelli was diagnosed with lung cancer in February 2019 and was treated at Pardee Cancer Center. While it is true that smoking can increase the risk of lung cancer, it is important to understand non-smokers and never-smokers, like Mrs. Albarelli, with few or no known risk factors, can also get the disease.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, a time to shed light on a disease that is diagnosed every two and a half minutes in the United States. It is the leading cancer killer of both men and women in the United States, causing more deaths each year than colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. “While the predominance of those diagnosed with lung cancer are smokers, the incidence in non-smokers has been increasing in recent years,” said Dr. Mark Goldblatt, a pulmonologist with Pardee UNC Health Care. “Anyone can be exposed to carcinogens and develop lung cancer, so this is a disease that should concern everyone.” Mrs. Albarelli said she is thankful her disease was treatable. “I was very fortunate the cancer was only in one lymph node.”

Dr. Tom Eisenhauer, a general surgeon with Pardee Surgical Associates, performed the surgery to remove the cancer in Mrs. Albarelli’s lung. She was then referred to and treated by Dr. S. Yaseen Zia, a radiation oncologist with Pardee UNC Health Care, and received five weeks of radiation therapy to provide a targeted treatment that would give the best chances for the cancer to not return. “I am thankful for the caring and professional treatment from the doctors and the entire team at Pardee,” Mrs. Albarelli said.

While lung cancer can happen to anyone, cigarette smoking remains the number one cause of lung cancer. Developments in screenings for lung cancer have helped with early detection, which leads to better outcomes and in some cases, a cure. Currently, individuals are eligible for a yearly low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) - commonly referred to as a low-dose CT scan - lung cancer screening if between the ages of 55 and 77, have no signs or symptoms of lung cancer, currently smoke or have quit within the last 15 years, and have a 30 pack-year history.

A pack-year is how clinicians estimate how much an individual has smoked in their lifetime. Clinicians multiply how many packs of cigarettes smoked each day by years smoked. One pack-year means someone smoked about one pack (20 cigarettes) every day for a year. If someone smoked a pack a day for 20 years or two packs per day for 10 years, that means they have a 20 pack-year history.

A provider’s referral is needed to schedule a low-dose CT scan. Guidelines and recommendations for lung cancer screenings are changing, so patients should talk with their health care provider about eligibility and what is appropriate for them.  

The best way to reduce risk of lung cancer is to quit smoking and avoid the inhalation of secondhand smoke and burning biofuels. There are medications and therapies that can make it easier to quit. To establish care with a primary care provider to get help quitting, visit

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