Have you noticed that people who never smoked a cigarette in their life are getting lung cancer lately?

It is both unfortunate and unsettling to witness so many young people suffering from lung cancer, even if they haven’t ever smoked a single cigarette. There are so many instances of people as young as 18 years succumbing to lung cancer and losing their lives to it. It is absolutely disturbing and devastating! Read about these cases that will make your throat well up.


1 Real life Cases

Jill Costello, a young, vibrant and fiercely competitive woman, who was at the prime age of 21, was diagnosed of stage IV cancer and she died within a year of her diagnosis. She had never smoked a cigarette.

You may think this is a one off tragic case, sadly it is not unique. Taylor Bell Duck, a 21-year-old Division 1 athlete from Greenville, South Carolina; Corey Wood, a 22-year-old marathoner who once summited Mt. Kilimanjaro; and finally, Jeff Julian, a 39-year-old athletic and former swimmer for team USA have also been a victim of lung cancer. The striking parallel among these people is shocking. All of them were young, fit, and were from athletic background; they never smoked, yet all of them were diagnosed with cancer.

Real life Cases

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2 What is causing this?

Bonnie J. Addario, along with her team from Addario Lung Cancer Medical Institute (ALCMI) and also from Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation (ALCF), tried to investigate the cause of this unfortunate situation though a research. They launched the ‘Genomics of Young Lung Cancer Study’ in order to uncover the mystery of why so many young adults (most of the athletic and non smokers) were getting lung cancer.


The ‘young lung’ study, a first of its own kind started out with 60 lung cancer patients diagnosed before the age of 40 and expanded to several other participants across the globe through web to understand lung cancer biology.

After an intense research, the study showed that the reason for lung cancer in healthy young adults could be due to certain molecular subtypes called “targetable” genomic alterations, or driver mutations.

What is causing this?

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3 How did they go about the study?

The study started with primary objectives of providing insight into lung cancer and also, ‘to facilitate the identification of new genomically-enriched subtypes of lung cancer and to accelerate the delivery of targeted therapies for more effective treatment.’


The study of Dr. Barbara Gitlitz of the University of Southern California, aimed to find out profound understanding of heritable and environmental lung cancer risk factors and to stress on personalized approach to treat a patient.

How did they go about the study?

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The study found ground breaking information, which was presented at the 16th World Conference on Lung Cancer in Denver. The studies showed the exceeding numbers of targetable mutations patients with Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC). Conventionally, NSCLC has been treated as a single disease but there are fundamental differences in the structure of patients’ cancer cells due to genomic mutations that reduce the effectiveness of this method.

“These molecular subtypes are called “targetable” genomic alterations, or driver mutations, and they cause lung cancer to develop in healthy, nonsmoking young adults” according to the study. This shows that each lung cancer patient needs to get the tumors molecularly tested. Also, the treatment should be based around a patient’s specific alterations rather than approaching with a single solution for every type.


4 Could Genetic mutation be the main culprit?

For more than a couple of years, medical professionals and lung cancer experts have believed that roughly 35 percent of lung cancer cases are caused by ‘targetable’ genetic mutations. But through the ‘young lung’ study, researchers found that the percentage was much higher; “more than 75 percent of the study participants had driver mutations.” The study also advocated that they would show better improvement if they were treated in accordance to their specific genomic alterations than they had ever with standard chemotherapy and radiation.

Even though the ‘Young Lung’ hasn’t found why the lung cancer cases are increasing at such an alarming rate, it is just a beginning. What we must learn from the study is to never ignore symptoms.

Could Genetic mutation be the main culprit?

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Young people are often treated for other issues even though the cancer symptoms may be flashing right in front because nobody suspects them as risks. This attitude can be catastrophic and hence, must stop immediately. To create a cancer free society, regular screening for genetic mutation that can trigger cancer should be done before it becomes fatal.


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