By Elizabeth Cook

by Elizabeth Cook and Molly McCrea

(KPIX 5) — Doctors are seeking to unravel the mystery as to why lung cancer is claiming victims who have never smoked in their lives, including a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who is not letting the disease slow her down.

Lung cancer kills more women than breast, ovarian and uterine cancer combined. Smoking is the biggest risk factor for this disease, something that 31-year-old Thuy Truong has never done.

Born in Vietnam, Truoug immigrated to the U.S. as a teenager. After graduating from USC with Bachelor of Science degree in computer science, Truong launched three startups.

Featured among the “Forbes 30 Under 30” list, Truong develops smartphone apps. She sold one to a Silicon Valley gaming company for more than $1 million.

“I work, I work! I have so much fun and when I work in Silicon valley, I have so much fun,” laughed Truong who is now known as Queen of the Startups in her native country.

Last year, she traveled back to Vietnam to produce a feature film. While in Hanoi, she landed in the emergency room and was given a terrifying diagnosis.

“They found a lot of fluid in my lung and they confirmed that I had lung cancer,” she said.

Back in California, doctors revealed her disease was advanced. She had stage 4 lung cancer; it had spread to other parts of her body.

“I never smoked in my life,” proclaimed Truong. She isn’t alone. Doctors are seeing a growing proportion of lung cancer in women who have never smoked.

One in six female lung cancer patients, young Asian women in particular, who never picked up a cigarette are getting diagnosed with the disease.

Experts are not sure what is behind the worrying trend.

Truong’s oncologist, Dr. Jorge Nieva of USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, said while there is no hard evidence, research is suggesting many theories. Birth control pills, environmental toxins, even HPV infections may all play a role.

But it’s a mystery. “Something in our environment, something in our practices … whether it’s weight, diet, hormones,” said Nieva. “We don’t really have that smoking gun for why we are seeing this phenomenon.”

USC Keck Medical Center Director of Thoracic Surgery Dr. Anthony Kim says among those diagnosed with lung cancer, nonsmokers are more likely to carry a certain genetic mutation than smokers.

In addition, the mutation appears to be more prevalent in Asian women. “Many of us in the field have seen that, have seen that exact same story,” said Kim.

While her cancer cannot be cured, new targeted therapies are keeping Truong’s cancer at bay, and under control.

The hope is that she can hold on as better treatments get developed.

“We’ve made enough advances in this disease over the last years that we’re getting better and better at treating it,” said Nieva.

Troung is now focused on living a life that counts. “Normal people are going to ask how much time I have left. How much time I have left doesn’t matter.” she explained.

From creating a new app for cancer patients seeking the best care, known as the Salt Cancer Initiative, to helping cleari debris from the Pacific Crest trail for other hikers, Thuy lives every day with gusto, as if it may be her last.

“I have nothing to regret,” said Thuy, with a smile.

Doctors, scientists, and researchers agree more funding is needed to get to the bottom of why so many women who have never smoked are now coming down with lung cancer.



Elizabeth Cook

Comments (15)
  1. Geoff Cliff says:

    Let me see; established belief is that lung cancer is caused by smoking, although nobody has ever succeeded in proving that fact. As smoking prevalence declines, lung cancer is increasing. Hmmm! Could the established belief be wrong?

    1. You are either a troll or totally clueless Smoking is by far the main risk factor and and the lung cancer rate in the US is declining almost parallel to the smoking rate.

  2. Dave Kuneman says:

    If our public health officials were not so focused on bashing smoking, perhaps these other causes of lung cancer would be identified.

  3. Iro CyZane says:

    For a long time the public health activists hypothetized that women started smoking later than men and this is why we are not seeing a decrease in lung cancer in women. The difference between men and women in the latency period for lung cancer to develop has now long expired so what we should be seeing is a steady decrease of lung cancer. But not only are we not seeing this happen we are actually seeing an increase of lung cancer even in never smoking women. Shouldn’t this be ringing loud bells that smoking has been too easy, convenient and lucrative to blame lung cancer on and we should seriously use any and all available funding for real science to search for the real mechanisms that cause the disease instead of continuously wasting precious funds on anti-smoking activism and politicized epidemiology?

      1. irocyr says:

        Trolling ? LOL. This chart shows a small decrease of 1% on lung cancer DEATH. Death is not incidence. There are more sophisticated methods for early detection thus better chance of survival that can account for the small decrease in deaths since or on 2009. But even if there were a very small decrease in incidence, it’s now been well over 20 years that women quit smoking more massively. 20 years of smoking is how long we,re told cancer takes to develop.
        So we should already be seeing a bigger trend in decrease like we did in men. We are not, not only that, never smoking younger women are now getting lung cancer.

      2. Yep, Iro CyZane is a well known internet pro smoking troll.

        By the way, this article contains zero evidence for the claim, that never smoking lung cancer is on the rise – quite the opposite – it still states that roughly 85 percent of women lung cancer patients are smokers.

      3. I don’t think I’d be too far wrong if I said that those on here defending smoker’s rights are, like myself, just a bunch of pi$$ed off smokers. You, on the other hand… what’s YOUR big interest?
        I would bet that YOU are the one who makes a living off the back of cigarettes. You…who has a non-job in the anti-smoking industry, spreading your malicious lies and propaganda, whilst constantly sucking at the taxpayer’s teat. Go crawl back behind your rock.

      4. ” anti-smoking industry”?? Oh god, what are you smoking 😉

  4. Iro CyZane says:

    Iro Cyzane and irocyr is the same person and being anti-lies, anti-corruption and pro common sense and truth does not make one a troll anyway you want to slice it. Wonder who is trolling who in an effort to shut them up now ?

    1. “Being anti lies.” Lol, the tiny pro smoking groups on facebook are all full of lies.

  5. Smoking has NEVER been biologically proven to cause lung cancer, regardless of what the anti-smoking activists may say. Statistically, it does increase your risk of getting LC…as does drinking beer incidentally!
    Smokers get lung cancer. Non-smokers get lung cancer. If any smoker gets lung cancer, it’s automatically attributed to smoking, regardless of what actually caused it. This is morally WRONG, and is the way that the figures are manipulated by anti-smoking organisations.

    1. “Smokers get lung cancer. Non-smokers get lung cancer.” Correct, but the smokers 20 times more often.

  6. Iro CyZane says:

    Here’s a very timely article pointing out to precisely what I was saying about the funding going to self-interested people who make a business and a career out of anti-smoking and the h…. with the funding direly needed for real research.

    Excerpt: ”He said a significant proportion of prevention research funding is going to studies that evaluate things like the effectiveness of anti-smoking campaigns in high schools, rather than identifying new causes of cancer.”

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