Singer Feng Fei-fei's death puts spotlight on lung cancer
SINGAPORE, Feb 19, 2012 (Menafn - The Straits Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --The link between lung cancer and non-smokers has come under the spotlight with the recent death of renowned Taiwanese singer Fong Fei-fei.
The 58-year-old died from the disease last month but according to Mr Ken Lim, the director of Hype Records which organised her last concert in Singapore in 2010, the singer led a healthy lifestyle and 'did not smoke'.
Research in recent years has shown that abstinence from smoking is no immunity from lung cancer.
In the United States, non-smokers make up an estimated 10 per cent or 17,000 of all lung cancer cases each year. In Singapore, non-smokers constitute 30 per cent of the total lung cancer cases each year, said Dr Daniel Tan, associate consultant at the Department of Medical Oncology at the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS).
According to statistics from the National Registry of Diseases office, 6,119 people were diagnosed with lung cancer from 2006 to 2010.
Doctors used to attribute non-smokers getting the disease to passive smoking or exposure to cooking fumes, said Dr Tan.
But researchers later discovered an association of a specific genetic mutation with lung cancer in non-smokers.
'It now seems that in addition to environmental factors, mutations in a gene called the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) play a significant role in the development of lung cancer,' he said.
It is estimated that 60 per cent of non-smokers with the disease have mutations of the EGFR. Once mutations occur, the lung cells multiply rapidly and uncontrollably, leading to cancer.
The mutation of another gene -- the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene -- is also a cause.
Incidence of lung cancer in non-smokers is also higher in women than in men. Dr Tan said that seven out of 10 non-smokers who contract the cancer here are women.
Lung cancer is the second most common cancer here among women, after breast cancer.
Findings from a study carried out by a team of cancer researchers from the US and China, which was published in Dutch magazine Elsevier last July, also indicate that women appear to be more prone to lung cancer.
Explanations why this is so, however, are still not available.
Exposure to radon, a gas present in homes, and environmental or occupational exposures to other harmful chemicals have been thrown up as possible reasons in other studies.
Meanwhile, some studies have suggested that Asian women appear more at risk.
One such study was funded by the National Research Council Singapore and the SingHealth Foundation and published in the BioMed Central Cancer journal two years ago.
While there are no medical methods to prevent non-smokers from getting lung cancer, Dr Tan said that targeted therapies against EGFR and ALK mutations have proven to be effective.
He added that these cancer-causing genetic mutations are not hereditary.
He advised people to 'maintain a healthy lifestyle, avoid passive smoking and advise loved ones to quit smoking', to reduce their chances of getting lung cancer.
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