A group of respiratory physicians and public health experts has made a call for greater recognition of and research into lung cancer among individuals who have never smoked, MedPage Today reports. In particular, they hope to see better screening methods for this population.

Publishing an essay in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, the British writing team noted the rising prevalence of lung cancer among never smokers

“This paper demonstrates an estimated 6,000 people who have never smoked die each year from lung cancer in the [United Kingdom],” the essay’s lead author, Paul Cosford, director for health protection and medical director at Public Health England (PHE), said in a press release. “This makes it, by itself, the eighth most common cause of cancer related death in the UK.”

Cosford and his coauthors argue that the longtime push to communicate to the public the connection between smoking and lung cancer has had an inadvertent effect of lung cancer actually receiving much less media and political attention compared with other cancers, including breast, prostate and ovarian cancers.

Additionally, smoking’s contribution to lung cancer has fostered stigma surrounding the disease that has led to considerable delays in the diagnosis of the cancer among nonsmokers, the authors stated.

“Despite advances in our understanding, most people who have never smoked do not believe they are at risk and often experience long delays in diagnosis, reducing their chances of receiving curative treatment,” essay coauthor Mick Peake, MD, clinical director of the Centre for Cancer Outcomes at University College London Hospitals Cancer Collaborative, said in the same release.

Globally, the proportion of lung cancers diagnosed among never smokers ranges between 10% and 25%, depending on the nation. As smoking declines, the share of lung cancers seen among never smokers compared with smokers is rising and is also higher among women than among men.

The presumed major drivers of lung cancer among never smokers include secondhand smoke (about 15% of cases), exposure to carcinogens on the job (about 20.5% of cases in men and 4.3% of cases in women), outdoor pollution (about 8%), X-ray radiation (about 0.8%) and radon exposure (about 0.5%).

On the bright side, the prognosis of never smokers is more favorable than that of smokers. This difference seems to be driven by genetic factors rather than by smoking itself.

Additionally, among those with lung cancer, nonsmokers are half as likely as smokers or former smokers to experience symptoms such as cough, dyspnea (difficult or labored breathing) and hemoptysis (coughing up blood).

To read a Cancer Health feature about a never smoker who developed lung cancer, click here.

To read the MedPage Today article, click here.

To read the essay abstract, click here.

To read a press release about the study, click here.