Myths and Facts


MYTHOnly smokers get cancer.
FACT: The causative association between tobacco use and lung cancer is well established. Lung cancer however, also occurs at high rates in lifelong never-smokers. Lung cancer in never-smokers is among the leading causes of cancer related mortality1.

MYTH: I am too young to get lung cancer.

 (Estimates provided by the 2015 Canadian Cancer Statistics)

MYTH: I won’t get lung cancer because I’ve never smoked. 
FACT: About 15% of lung cancers occur in never-smokers in the West, whereas about 30% - 40% of patients with lung cancer are never-smokers from Asian countries2. Second hand smoke, radon, personal history of cancer or other lung disease, family history, and pollutants in the environment can all potentially cause lung cancer. 

MYTH: More men and women die from prostate and breast cancer than from lung cancer.
More people are expected to die from lung cancer (21,100 in 2017) than from colorectal, breast, and pancreatic cancer combined (19,200 in 2017). 


*Age-standardized to the 2011 Canadian Standard Population. Age-standardization is a
statistical method that removes the effect of age on the calculated rate. It allows rates to be
compared over time or across provinces and territories.
(Estimates provided by the 2017 Canadian Cancer Statistics)

MYTH: Only older men get lung cancer.
In 2017, an estimated 14,200 women were diagnosed with lung cancer and 10,000 died from it3.

MYTH: Lung cancer isn’t as common as people think it is. 
In 2017, lung cancer accounted for 28,600 new cases alone. This made lung cancer the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Canadians (14% of all cancers)3.
In addition, 1 in 11 Canadian men will develop lung cancer during his lifetime and one in 14 will die from it. 1 in 14 Canadian women will develop lung cancer during her lifetime and one in 17 will die from it3.


MYTH: I’m more likely to die from other cancers than lung cancer. 
In 2017, 21,100 Canadians died from lung cancer, making the disease the leading cause of cancer death for both sexes (26%)3.


MYTH: Most cases of lung cancer are caught in the early stages.
FACT: Every year in Canada (excluding Quebec), an average of 6,823 lung and bronchus, 2,494 colorectal, 815 female breast and 1,187 prostate cancers were diagnosed after they had metastasized (stage IV). In addition, about half (50%) of all lung cancers were diagnosed at stage IV, which is reflected in its low five-year net survival of 17%4.


*Excludes Quebec, including cases diagnosed in people aged 18-79
Analysis by: Health Statistics Division, Statistics CanadaData 
Source: Canadian Cancer Registry database at Statistics Canada

MYTH: I already have lung cancer, there’s no point in quitting smoking now. 
FACT: Lung cancer patients who quit smoking have fewer complications after surgery.
Quitting smoking can improve responses to all forms of cancer therapy
Quitting smoking after cancer therapy has been associated with a significantly decreased risk of another primary tumour in the lung
Quitting smoking can help to improve breathing
MYTH: Lung cancer patients bring it on to themselves by smoking. 

FACT: Not all lung cancer cases are caused by smoking. About half of patients who are diagnosed have either never smoked (15%) or are former smokers (35%). In addition, smoking is a serious addiction that is very hard to combat. Societal, cultural and economic factors may work in influencing an individual to take up smoking. In other words, the decision to smoke is not always an independent one5.

MYTH: There’s no way to screen for lung cancer. 

FACT: The Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care recommend screening in high-risk individuals with low dose computed tomography (CT). Currently, pilot studies are underway in Canada to investigate the feasibility of implementing lung cancer screening programs for high risk populations with the aim of detecting disease at an earlier stage when it may respond better to treatment4.

MYTH: Lung cancer is a death sentence.

FACT: Since the late 1980s, the lung cancer morality rate among males has declined. According to the 2018 Canadian Cancer Statistics, the death rate for females showed a small decrease between 2006 and 2012, though the change was not statistically significant. In addition, advances in research are making lung cancer a more treatable disease than it once was4.

MYTH: Quitting smoking won't reduce my chances of getting lung cancer. 

FACT: Since the peak in the cancer mortality rate in Canada in 1988, it is estimated that over 31,000 lung cancer deaths have been avoided. This is largely reflective of a reduction in smoking among Canadians6

(Estimates provided by the 2017 Canadian Cancer Statistics) 
Rudin, Charles M., et al. “Lung Cancer in Never Smokers: A Call to Action.” Clinical Cancer Research, American Association for Cancer Research, 15 Sept. 2009,
2 Chee-Keong Toh, Wan-Teck Lim. “Lung Cancer in Never-Smokers.” Journal of Clinical Pathology, BMJ Publishing Group, 1 Apr. 2007,
3 “Lung Cancer Statistics - Canadian Cancer Society.”,
Canadian Cancer Statistics Advisory Committee. Canadian Cancer Statistics 2018. Toronto, ON: Canadian Cancer Society; 2018
Mapes, Diane. “7 Lung Cancer Misconceptions.” Fred Hutch, 15 Nov. 2018,
Canadian Cancer Society’s Advisory Committee on Cancer Statistics. Canadian Cancer Statistics 2017. Toronto, ON: Canadian Cancer Society; 2017.