Can Exposure to Secondhand Smoke Cause Lung Cancer?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarettes contain over 7,000 chemicals — about 70 of those are believed to cause cancer. When you breathe in secondhand smoke, you inhale the same toxic chemicals a smoker does just in much smaller amounts. Whether you are frequently around someone who smokes or briefly cross paths with a smoker, secondhand smoke has the potential to be dangerous.

The CDC estimates secondhand smoke leads to 7,300 lung cancer deaths among nonsmoking U.S. adults each year. Even inhaling a minimal amount of smoke can damage your lungs and increase your risk of developing lung cancer.

Secondhand smoke is known to cause other types of cancers and health complications in adults and children, including leukemia, lymphoma, coronary heart disease, asthma attacks, stroke, low birth weight, ear infections and more.

What Is Secondhand Smoke?

Secondhand smoke is what you breathe in when you are around people who are smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes or hookah. It is a combination of two different kinds of smoke: mainstream smoke and sidestream smoke. Mainstream smoke occurs when someone exhales after taking a puff. Sidestream smoke is the smoke that drifts from the burning cigar or cigarette.

How Can Secondhand Smoke Cause Cancer?

Breathing in secondhand smoke is what’s known as passive or involuntary smoking, which means you are exposed to the same dangers as the person who is smoking — but at a lower risk. The moment you inhale secondhand smoke, the chemicals and toxins within the smoke can travel into your lungs and damage their lining.

The roughly 70 cancer-causing toxins in a cigarette include poisons, metals and radioactive materials including (but not limited to):

  • Arsenic
  • Nickel
  • Benzene
  • Chromium
  • Toluene
  • Beryllium
  • Formaldehyde
  • Polonium
  • Ethylene oxide
  • Cadmium
  • Vinyl chloride

Your body should be able to repair itself after very minimal exposure to secondhand smoke, but continuous exposure can lead to abnormal cells in your lung tissue that can cause cancer. The longer you are exposed to secondhand smoke, the more you are at risk of developing lung cancer.

What Are the Types of Lung Cancer?

There are two types of lung cancer: small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

  1. Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is usually caused by cigarette smoking and is often treated with chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy.
  2. Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common form of lung cancer (about 80 percent of cases). It tends to grow and spread to other parts of the body much more slowly than SCLC.

What Are the Early Signs of Lung Cancer?

Early signs can be hard to detect because many people with lung cancer do not experience symptoms until the later stages of the disease.

Symptoms of lung cancer may include:

  • A cough that slowly worsens over time
  • Persistent chest pain
  • Frequent lung infections (bronchitis or pneumonia)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hoarseness
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing up blood

It is also possible that some symptoms may not even be connected to breathing or the lungs, so it can be difficult to determine the root cause. These indirect symptoms may begin to show once the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Indirect symptoms of lung cancer may include:

  • Blood clots
  • Headaches
  • Weight loss
  • Bone pain or fractures
  • Loss of appetite

What Are the Types of Lung Cancer Treatment?

Treatment options are determined based on the kind of lung cancer, its stage and treatment goals. Once a lung cancer physician determines the lung cancer profile, they will suggest one or more treatment options:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery
  • Immunotherapy
  • Clinical trials
  • Targeted therapy
  • Supportive or palliative care

Lung Cancer Treatment at the Community Cancer Center in Roseburg, Oregon

If you or someone you love has been recently diagnosed with lung cancer, you are not alone. Our compassionate physicians at the Community Cancer Center provide comprehensive treatment plans for all stages of lung cancer.

We offer treatment options for lung cancer patients living in the Roseburg area.

To schedule a lung cancer consultation, call 541-673-2267 (ext. 5100) or send us a message.