The Big Bang Theory star, Kate Micucci, shares her lung cancer diagnosis despite never smoking cigarettes.
"This is not a TikTok; it's a SickTok," said Micucci, 43, in a TikTok video from a hospital where she underwent lung cancer surgery a day earlier.
"It's pretty weird because I never smoked a cigarette in my life," she added.
@katiemicucci An update on what I’ve been up to. 🫁 #sicktok #hospital #imokay #solucky #sendinglove ♬ original sound - Katemicucci
Micucci is among 10-20% of lung cancer patients in the United States who have never smoked or smoked less than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime.
Non-smoker women appear to be more vulnerable to lung cancer than men. Globally, 15–20% of men with the condition are non-smokers, compared to over 50% of women. The difference is less pronounced in the U.S., with non-smoker men accounting for 9% of lung cancer patients versus 19% of women.
Smoking tobacco remains the leading cause of lung cancer, one of the deadliest cancers. However, as cigarette smoking among American adults reached an all-time low of 12.5% in 2020, the proportion of lung cancer diagnoses attributed to other factors will increase, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
What causes lung cancer in non-smokers?
Scientists are still working to understand what causes lung cancer in non-smokers. Some factors are well established and include the following:
- Exposure to radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas that results from the breakdown of uranium in soil and rocks. When there is radon indoors, it can be more concentrated, and breathing it may increase the risk of lung cancer. Radon exposure is the leading cause of lung cancer among people who don't smoke.
- Secondhand smoke, when non-smokers are exposed to nicotine and toxic chemicals the same way people who smoke do.
- Cancer-causing agents at work, such as arsenic, uranium, asbestos and diesel exhaust.
- Air pollution, especially in cities near heavily trafficked roads.
- Gene mutations in lung cells.
Some viruses, such as Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), human papillomavirus (HPV), and Hepatitis B and C, may also play a role in developing the condition.
Additionally, the scientists hypothesize that estrogens and other female hormones could increase the risk of lung cancer in non-smokers, possibly explaining higher rates among women than men.
No screening guidelines
In a follow-up video a week after the surgery, Micucci shared the good news that she is cancer-free and doesn't need additional treatment. The actor said she was fortunate to be diagnosed early.
@katiemicucci Thank you to everyone who sent good wishes this week. It meant so much to me! ❤️ #cancerfree #solucky #update #goodnews #goodnewsontiktok #lungcancer ♬ original sound - Katemicucci
Currently, there are no guidelines for screening lung cancer in non-smokers, and the annual chest X-ray screening is only recommended for people who:
- Smoke an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year, and
- Smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years, and
- Are between 50 and 80 years old.
Most non-smokers do not have any symptoms in the early stages. When they do, the symptoms may include the following:
- A cough that does not go away or gets worse
- Coughing up blood
- Chest pain that is often worse with deep breathing, coughing, or laughing
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Shortness of breath
- Fatigue, weakness
- Repetitive infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia
Although Micucci was diagnosed early, most people with lung cancer receive the diagnosis only in the late stages of the disease.
- American Cancer Society. Lung Cancer Risks for People Who Don't Smoke.
- National Library of Medicine. Lung Cancer in Non-Smokers.
- CDC. Saving Lives from Lung Cancer: Seeing Past the Smoke.
- CDC. Who Should Be Screened for Lung Cancer?