Kathy Griffin lung cancer diagnosis: Are nonsmokers at risk?

Smoking is the No. 1 risk factor, but several other factors may increase odds

Comedian Kathy Griffin informed fans on Monday of a recent lung cancer diagnosis and immediate plans to undergo surgery to remove half of her left lung. Griffin, 60, said it was a stage 1 diagnosis, and said she has never smoked. 

"I’ve got to tell you guys something. I have cancer. I’m about to go into surgery to have half of my left lung removed," Griffin wrote on Twitter. "Yes, I have lung cancer even though I’ve never smoked!"

Lung cancer mainly occurs in older people, with most diagnoses occurring in patients 65 or older, according to the American Cancer Society. It is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women, but the numbers have been decreasing partly due to the number of people quitting smoking. 

KATHY GRIFFIN HAS STAGE ONE LUNG CANCER

While smoking is the No. 1 risk factor, accounting for about 90% of cases, there are other factors that could cause the disease. Exposure to secondhand smoke is one, with exposure to radon being second. Particle pollution may also increase your risk, according to the American Lung Association. 

Exposure to asbestos or other cancer-causing agents in the workplace may also increase your risk of developing lung cancer, as can taking certain dietary supplements and the presence of arsenic in drinking water.

Genetic factors, such as a family history of lung cancer, may also increase risk and should be discussed with your doctor, the American Lung Association advises. 

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A small portion of lung cancers may develop in people with no known risk factors, according to the American Cancer Society. Those that occur in nonsmokers are typically different from those that occur in people who do, as they tend to be diagnosed in younger patients and have different genetic changes than tumors found in smokers. 

It is not clear how Griffin’s cancer was discovered, as symptoms often don’t develop until later stages of the illness, and she did not specify what type of cancer she was diagnosed with. However, the American Cancer Society noted that it’s rare for a nonsmoker to be diagnosed with small cell lung cancer.

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Surgery for early-stage non-small cell lung cancer might be an option, and "provides the best chance to cure the disease," according to the American Cancer Society. Patients who may be eligible will likely undergo pulmonary function tests and other tests involving the heart and other organs to ensure health prior to the surgery. A doctor will also check to see if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes between the lungs. 

The type of operation recommended will likely depend on size and location of the tumor and how the lung is functioning. Griffin said that her doctors are "very optimistic" and that the cancer is contained in her left lung. 

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"Hopefully no chemo or radiation after this and I should have normal function with my breathing," she said. "I should be up and running around as usual in a month or less."