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One in six people dying of lung cancer are non-smokers

Breathing in second-hand smoke is the biggest risk factor

About 6,000 non-smoking Britons a year now die of lung cancer – more than lose their lives to ovarian or cervical cancer or leukaemia, research shows.

That is about a sixth of the 36,000 deaths a year from lung cancer.

Research published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine blamed the rise on car fumes, second-hand smoke and indoor air pollution.

“If considered as a separate entity, lung cancer in never-smokers is the eighth most common cause of cancer-related death in the UK and the seventh most prevalent cancer in the world,” the authors said

A “never-smoker” is classed as someone who has smoked fewer than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime.

Prof Paul Cosford, Public Health England’s director for health protection and medical director, and an author of the report, said people rarely think of lung cancer as a non-smoker’s disease.

“They’re so focused on smoking as the main risk factor that we forget that there are quite a few causes of lung cancer that affect non-smokers,” he added. “From a personal perspective, when I knew I was ill I never thought I would have lung cancer as I wasn’t a smoker. There’s an emerging realisation that this is a health problem we need to get supportive about.”

Breathing in second-hand smoke is the single biggest risk factor for a non-smoker getting lung cancer, accounting for 15% of the 6,000 cases.

Exposure to carcinogens in the workplace, such as asbestos, are to blame for 20.5% of lung cancers in non-smoking men and 4.3% in non-smoking women, according to the study reported by the Guardian.

Outdoor air pollution accounts for 8% of cases in non-smokers. It is thought to lead directly to the death of 39,000 Britons every year from a range of medical conditions, including lung cancer.