While most cases of lung cancer occur in smokers, nearly 20 percent of cases strike those who’ve never touched a cigarette. When it comes down to the facts, 32,000 nonsmoking Americans die from lung cancer every year — so many that experts say it’s time to stop calling it “the smoker’s disease.”

“We say, ‘If you have a lung, you can get lung cancer,’” said Linda Wenger, executive director of Uniting Against Lung Cancer (UALC), a nonprofit advocacy group aimed at reaching a better understanding of lung cancer.

Some believe the stigma around lung cancer as only something smokers get has dampened public sympathy for patients and hindered funding for research. In terms of funding received from the US National Cancer Institute, “the numbers are $27,000 in research per cancer death for breast cancer, compared to only about $1,400 per cancer death for lung cancer,” says Holli Kawadler, UALC’s scientific program director.

Scientists are still learning more about lung cancer in those who’ve never smoked, but they do know nonsmoking women who get the disease are twice as likely as nonsmoking men to die from it, possibly because estrogen may be linked to the prevalence of tumors in women.

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